New Zealand student passport aplication denied by 'racist' AI photo checker

Occurred: December 2016

22 year-old Kiwi engineering student Richard Lee had his passport application denied by a facial recognition system that interpreted his eyes as closed, prompting accusations of racism. Lee, who is of Asian descent, had his eyes open. 

Lee, who was born in Taiwan and is a New Zealand citizen, had been trying to renew his passport after spending time in Australia. He was forced to get new passport photos taken at an Australia Post office, of which was subsequently approved.

The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs responded to the incident by telling journalists the software was 'one of the most technologically advanced in the world' and that 'Up to 20 per cent of photos submitted online are rejected for a large variety of reasons.' 

It declined to reveal the name of its supplier. 

Operator: New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs

Country: New Zealand

Sector: Govt - immigration

Purpose: Verify identity

Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: August 2023