Tests of facial recognition systems fail to register accuracy for Maori


Tests of the main facial recognition (RF) system used to produce passports failed to record its accuracy on Maori.

Photo: 123rf

The Home Office carried out tests four years ago on the passport photos of 400,000 people to decide which system to buy.

Japanese company NEC won – their system was accurate over 99% of the time and has since been upgraded.

Read the performance review of biometric data solution providers (PDF, 4 MB)

The 2017 report released after an RNZ appeal to the mediator, shows that tests were carried out to see how accurate the technology was on people of different ages and all genders, but none for ethnicity.

It has been widely reported for at least five years that facial recognition can have a higher misidentification rate with minorities and lead to dangerous lawsuits.

Internal Affairs said they were aware “of certain limits of precision when applying FR to various ethnicities.”

“We used New Zealand data for testing which, we made sure it fully represented New Zealand demographics.

“The use of FR in our production system did not indicate any material issues with ethnicity,” he told RNZ.

Facial recognition algorithms are a “cornerstone” of automated passport processing.

An internal affairs tester in Australia assessed the two systems for their ability to identify fraudsters with multiple identities in the DIA system; and to check if a person applying for a renewed passport is the right person.

Read a summary of the precision test comparison (PDF 116 KB)

The NEC system has achieved the best results, especially in photos of people under the age of 16.

The system is managed for the department by the American company DXC.

“DXC has requested that we explain that the facial recognition service is only one part of the larger and more comprehensive identity validation and security screening processes under the New Zealand Global Passport System,” said declared the DIA.

Upgrades since 2017 mean the new system is faster, safer and more accurate, he said.

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