Here’s The Ridiculous, Racist Reason This Man’s Passport Photo Was Rejected

The passport office claims “uneven lighting,” but no one’s buying it.

Getting your passport is never a fun task. In addition to the costs, there’s the bureaucratic red tape along with the additional chore of getting your passport photo taken. It’s almost as if Fate knows that this is the picture you’ll be stuck with for a decade, so they ensure that it’s so bad it makes your driver’s license look like a Herb Ritts glamor shot.

For New Zealand citizen Richard Lee, he managed to walk away from his photo shoot with a pretty great-looking headshot. But when he uploaded it to his country’s website to renew his passport, he was told that he couldn’t use the picture.

Richard Lee

Because his eyes were closed.

Only they weren’t closed. He’s of Asian descent, so that’s what his eyes look like when they’re open. I’m not sure if it’s a mitigating factor, but the rejection was an automatic one based on software to analyze submitted photos. The bizarre event raises some interesting questions like, “Is the machine racist?” Or “Can a machine be racist?” Or even “Is the person who programmed the software insensitive or did they just lack the foresight into the types of faces their product would be analyzing?”

People certainly had their opinions over whether this whole affair was a tempest in a teapot or an actual issue that needed to be addressed.

The discussion will continue now that the screenshot of the rejection (and the great-looking photo) have gone viral, but Mr. Lee isn’t sweating it too much. He told Mashable, “I found it hilarious actually, not racist. It’s pretty impressive that in the past 80 years we went from Turing Machines to a computer software that could read a face and determine that the eyes were smaller than usual.”

The passport office has responded with, “There were shadows in the eyes or uneven lighting,” but if that’s the case with a picture of this caliber, we’re thinking the office’s standards might be unrealistically high for getting a photo taken at the local post office.

Lee put the matter behind him, saying, “So I took a couple more at the post office and fortunately one of them went through.”

We don’t have a line on what Lee’s new passport picture is, so we’ll just imagine it’s even more majestic than the one that got senselessly denied.