Richard Lee had his passport picture rejected by a government website in New Zealand because of a fault in the face-recognition software that registered his eyes as closed.
Lee, 22, who was born in Taiwan but raised in New Zealand, tried to renew his passport so he could travel back to Australia after Christmas on Monday, according to the NZ Herald.
But he was blocked after submitting his photo to an online passport checker run by the department of internal affairs.
The 22-year-old engineering student, who is currently studying aerospace engineering and business management in Melbourne, received an error message from the automated system, saying the photo was invalid because his eyes were shut, even though Lee was very obviously awake.
“The photo you want to upload does not meet our criteria because subjects eyes are closed,” the message read.
A spokesperson for the department of internal affairs told Lee that the reason it was rejected is because of “uneven lighting on the face.”
A copy of the notification was posted on Facebook and users started calling out the machine for racism.
“Technology is getting racist,” one user commented.
“Dude, his eyes are clearly open,” another person wrote.
Others have claimed they have experienced similar issues when using the facial recognition software.
Lee, who also performs as a DJ under the name Richy Fancy, posted a hilarious selfie to Facebook using a Snapchat filter that widens the face and eyes, accompanied by the caption: “I hope they accept this one.”
Lee said the issue didn’t bother him and believes it wasn’t about race.
“No hard feelings on my part, I’ve always had very small eyes and facial recognition technology is relatively new and unsophisticated,” he told Reuters. “It was a robot, no hard feelings. I got my passport renewed in the end.”
According to an internal affairs spokesman, about 20% of passport photos are rejected online for several reasons.
“The most common error is a subject’s eyes being closed and that was the generic error message sent in this case,” the spokesman explained.
If users receive a message about their eyes being closed, the department suggests taking the picture again and make sure your eyes are wide open.