No smiles please, if you want to drive in US

May 31st, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 31 (IANS) The licence to drive in the US no longer comes with a smile with several states asking people to wipe off that grin from their faces when posing for driver’s licence photos.

Officials say the smile ban is for a good cause. The departments of motor vehicles (DMV) are simply trying to develop a facial recognition system that could compare customers’ photographs over time to prevent fraud and identity theft.

The hitch is that people can’t be smiling in their licence photos because the software won’t match faces if the expressions differ.

“The technology works best when the images are similar,” said Virginia DMV spokesperson Pam Goheen, cited by the Washington Post. “To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements, we’re asking customers to maintain a neutral expression.”

In Virginia that translates to a simple directive: “Don’t smile”. Arkansas, Indiana and Nevada allow slight smiles, but big grins are forbidden there too.

When asked how DMV employees are able to determine when customers might be smiling too much, Goheen explained that the process is automated. Naturally, the new software is programmed to reject attempts at exuberance or human warmth. “It will send an error message if it detects a non-neutral expression,” she said.

Nationwide, 37 motor vehicle agencies use facial recognition technologies. The State Department also uses them for visa processing, and the Pennsylvania Justice Network compares crime scene photos and closed-circuit television footage with photos in a mugshot database of those previously arrested.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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