Anyone who’s dealt with the complexities of passport photo requirements would probably jump at the chance to have their pics checked online, but automated systems can have their own complications, as a New Zealand man recently learned.
22-year-old Richard Lee was using his country’s online passport checker when he encountered an unexpected error: The website said his photo was unacceptable because “subject eyes are closed.” Lee’s eyes, of course, were open, they just had epicanthal folds.
“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 later told Daily Mail Australia. “So I got a few new ones taken at Australian Post and one of them went through.”
While Lee was eventually able to circumvent the software, his experience highlights how biases can get engineered into seemingly impartial systems. Early color film, for instance, was optimized for white skin, making it difficult to correctly expose people of color. And since Facebook began enforcing its“real name” policy, Native American users with names like “Creepingbear” have repeatedly reported getting suspended from the site.
Lee, however, says he was personally unfazed by the incident.
“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,” said Lee. “Just a bit annoying with the delay and I’d expect to get a staff reply after 3 failed submissions.”