Tag: checker

07
Oct
2020
Posted in technology

UK passport photo checker shows bias against dark-skinned women

An illustration showing photos of three people with different skin tones. The photo of the darkest skinned person has a poor quality score and the photo of the lightest skinned person has a good quality score
An illustration showing photos of three people with different skin tones. The photo of the darkest skinned person has a poor quality score and the photo of the lightest skinned person has a good quality score

Women with darker skin are more than twice as likely to be told their photos fail UK passport rules when they submit them online than lighter-skinned men, according to a BBC investigation.

One black student said she was wrongly told her mouth looked open each time she uploaded five different photos to the government website.

This shows how “systemic racism” can spread, Elaine Owusu said.

The Home Office said the tool helped users get their passports more quickly.

“The indicative check [helps] our customers to submit a photo that is right the first time,” said a spokeswoman.

“Over nine million people have used this service and our systems are improving.

“We will continue to develop and evaluate our systems with the objective of making applying for a passport as simple as possible for all.”

Skin colour

The passport application website uses an automated check to detect poor quality photos which do not meet Home Office rules. These include having a neutral expression, a closed mouth and looking straight at the camera.

BBC research found this check to be less accurate on darker-skinned people.

More than 1,000 photographs of politicians from across the world were fed into the online checker.

The results indicated:

  • Dark-skinned women are told their photos are poor quality 22% of the time, while the figure for light-skinned women is 14%

  • Dark-skinned men are told their photos are poor quality 15% of the time, while the figure for light-skinned men is 9%

Photos of women with the darkest skin were four times more likely to be graded poor quality, than women with