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Passport software can't tell this man's eyes are open

A facial recognition program in New Zealand looks into an applicant's eyes; then goes on the blink.

Eyes wide shut?
Richard Lee

Here's an eye-opening example of the limits of tech.

A New Zealand man of Asian descent had his passport request slapped back by the country's automated online application system because his eyes were closed in his photo.

Except they weren't.

Richard Lee, a 22-year-old engineering student and DJ originally from Taiwan, posted a screenshot of the facial recognition blip to his Facebook page earlier this week.

"Subject eyes are closed," reads a red error message.

Despite comments from Facebook friends about racism, Lee laughed off the mistake.

"It's just a software executing lines of codes," Lee told CNET via Facebook Messenger. "I just found the error message hilarious as I know obviously I've got smaller eyes than the norm. If it was done by a person then it'd be a bit different."

Lee's amusing comeback.

Richard Lee

Lee said he tried four other photos but got the same rejection. Then he called the passport office, which said his original images had uneven lighting and too much shadow in the eye area.

After a trip to the post office for new pics, Lee received his passport Wednesday morning.

Up to 20 percent of photos submitted online are rejected, with the most common reason being closed eyes, a New Zealand department of internal affairs spokesman said in a statement.

Lee said he is proud of his small eyes, which have now helped his picture go viral. Still, he was open to trying on some other peepers for size. Not long after his original Facebook post about the error, Lee followed up with a good-natured jab at the facial recognition setup.

Using a Snapchat cartoon filter, he transformed his face with two Powerpuff Girls-size eyes and posted the resulting image to Facebook with a caption.

"I hope they accept this one," he wrote.