"The photo you want to upload does not meet our criteria because subjects eyes are closed"

A New Zealand Asian man had his passport photo rejected by a facial recognition robot that failed to recognise that his eyes were open.

Richard Lee, 22, was attempting to renew his passport when the New Zealand department of internal affairs photo checker rejected his photo upload.

Lee was born in Taiwan but grew up in New Zealand and is a DJ who is currently studying Aerospace Engineering and Business Management in Melbourne.

The automated system told the engineering student that his photo was invalid because his eyes were closed even though they clearly are open.

Lee contacted the Department of Internal Affairs to inquire why his photo was rejected. “I tried different ones and no luck, so I rang the office they said it’s to do with the shadow in my eyes and uneven lighting in the face,” Lee said.

The DJ/student uploaded a screenshot of the error onto Facebook.

One user wrote “Technology is getting racist”. However, Lee seemed to take the mistake in good humour.

“No hard feelings on my part, I’ve always had very small eyes and facial recognition technology is relatively new and unsophisticated,” Lee said.

“It was a robot, no hard feelings. I got my passport renewed in the end.”

Lee even uploaded a humorous image using a Snapchat filter to mock the incident.


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“The error message didn’t bother me that much, I saw the humor in it and obviously it’s a programming error in the recognition software,” Lee said.

“Just a bit annoying with the delay and I’d expect to get a staff reply after 3 failed submissions,” he added.

An Internal Affairs spokesman said that 20% of passport photos submitted online are rejected for a variety of reasons.

“The most common error is a subject’s eyes being closed and that was the generic error message sent in this case,” he said.

The spokesman claimed the lighting in Lee’s first photo was uneven. Lee eventually uploaded a photo that was accepted.

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