Automated UK passport checker interprets lips as open mouth

Occurred: September 2019

An automated passport photo checker facial detection system run by the UK Home Office mistook the 'big lips' of a young Black man hoping to renew his passport for an open mouth, resulting in his application being refused.

The incident prompted Bada to share his experience online, leading to accustations of algorithmic bias and racism. 

The UK's Race Equality Foundation said it believed the system was not tested properly to see if it would actually work for black or ethnic minority people, calling it 'technological or digital racism'.

A New Scientist report published one month after Bada's incident revealed that the Home Office system was known to fail for people with dark skin, but that it decided to use it regardless. 

The documents were released following a Freedom of Information request by MedConfidential.

System 🤖

Operator: UK Home Office

Country: UK

Sector: Govt - immigration

Purpose: Automate passport checks

Technology: Facial detection
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity

Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: March 2023