Was it ‘techno-racism’? Facial recognition bug denies Black man’s passport photo

The camera is seen on a facial recognition device as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers use it Miami International Airport to screen travelers entering the United States on February 27, 2018 in Miami. A similar machine rejected a Black man’s image based on its requirements. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A 28-year-old Black man from the U.K. says he was “annoyed” after a facial detection system rejected his passport photo after mistaking his full lips as an open mouth.

Joshua Bada told British newspaper The Telegraph that the government machine did not take his image because it requires him to have a neutral expression with a closed mouth. But a screenshot he shared of his photo application shows the system questioning his submission. In the explanation box, Bada states “my mouth is closed, I just have big lips.”

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He says that he has experienced similar problems on other platforms.

“When I saw it, I was a bit annoyed but it didn’t surprise me because it’s a problem that I’ve faced on Snapchat with the filters, where it hasn’t quite recognized my mouth, obviously because of my complexion and just the way my features are,” he said to The Telegraph.

Bada said he received numerous messages from friends that found humor in the situation but did mention the incident “shouldn’t be happening.”

The Racial Equality Foundation noted the incident as “digital racism” and believe that the system was not properly tested to identify people of color.

“Presumably, there was a there was a process behind developing this type of technology which did not address issues of race ethnicity,” said Samir Jeraj, policy and practice officer for The Racial Equality Foundation. “As a result, it disadvantages Black and minority ethnic people.”

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Flaws in facial recognition systems are also present in the United States as the Detroit Police Department received criticism for using facial recognition cameras for arrests.

“This should be the last place police use the technology because it can’t identify one black man or woman to another,” Detroit police commission member Willie Burton said to The Guardian. “Every black man with a beard looks alike to it. Every black man with a hoodie looks alike. This is techno-racism.”