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UK still to apply updates to ‘biased’ biometric passport scanning software

UK still to apply updates to ‘biased’ biometric passport scanning software

The British government is still entertaining delays in fixing a problem in its biometric passport scanning system which sometimes misreads faces with particular skin colors, according to a report by New Scientist.

The report states that the problem is yet to be corrected despite updates to the face analysis algorithms being available since about a year ago.

New Scientist said the UK passport office had confirmed in February last year that it had spoken to the biometric software supplier about the problem, and it had been addressed with an algorithm update.

But the update has since not been added to the system, and the office confirmed to the outlet in an interview this month saying “Her Majesty’s Passport Office can confirm that we have not deployed the updated software.”

New Scientist added that with the software update still to be applied to the face-detection system for the passport photo verification service, people from certain minority groups are facing additional difficulties in accessing an essential service.

The problem with the system — which has been operational since 2016 — was exposed by New Scientist in 2019 and showed the biased in the system was for people with very light and very dark skin tones. It added that the system is said to have rejected the photos of some black users, telling them they did not meet requirements.

Admitting that the global pandemic may have affected the updating process, New Science however shares the views of some experts who expressed shock at the delays in the process, which was also noted a year ago.

Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield in the UK is quoted as expressing surprise that the update to the disputed software has been there since “…more than a year ago and it has not been used.”

Another official of MedConfidential, a group that reportedly found documents showing that the British government was aware of flaws in the software’s biometric performance, said not using the improved version was like running a program for citizens that “…discriminates based solely on the colour of their skin.”

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