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Happy days are over for drivers in Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia, which have banned smiles on license photos.  (Source: NY Daily News)

Diana Kim, of Fairfax, Va. isn't smiling as she gets her license -- it's banned in her state.  (Source: USA Today)
Turn that smile upside down

As high-tech licenses become increasingly hard to forge, the Department of Motor Vehicles has found that one popular approach to obtaining fraudulent license is for someone to pose as a friend or colleague in an effort to get an official license.  New high-tech software uses facial recognition to warn officials if the face of the person being licensed matches someone already licensed.

However, there's one problem -- the algorithms often fail if people are making different faces in the two photos.  So four states -- Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia -- are telling drivers to wipe that grin off their face.  No more happy days for licensing, the states have declared, drivers must adopt "neutral facial expressions".

Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor Takeo Kanade acknowledges that the move is necessary given the poor state of facial recognition technology when it comes to facial expressions.  Researchers still have yet to catch up to the inherent processing capability of the human brain, which can recognize familiar faces in a broad variety of expressions.

Karen Chappell, deputy commissioner of the Virginia DMV says that the smile ban is necessary to "make the comparison process more accurate."

Some citizens who were initially offended are changing their tune, deciding that the rule is in the best interest of national security.  States Elaine Mullen of Great Falls, Va., "It's probably safer from a national-security point of view."

Arkansas, Indiana and Nevada do still allow small smiles.  Currently 31 states in total do computerized matching of driver's license photos, and 3 others are considering it.  Of the 27 other states without anti-smiling policies, many are considering adopting similar measures.  Some states though are resisting the movement.  Pennsylvania Transportation Department spokesman Craig Yetter, states, "People can smile here in Pennsylvania."

Even without a smile-ban, Illinois stopped 6,000 people from getting fraudulent licenses since 1999, according to Beth Langen, the state head of Drivers Services.



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By queuetrip on 5/27/2009 11:54:15 AM , Rating: 2
do not know if there is a law against smiling in the license office here in Toronto, but I was asked to not smile and not to wear my glasses while the picture is taken.




By kb9fcc on 5/27/2009 12:58:11 PM , Rating: 2
Without my glasses I'm not sure I could see the camera to look into/at it. I've worn glasses for so long that any picture of me without them would assumed to be faked.

And speaking of things that changes one's face, what about facial hair (for those of capable (or cursed with) that ability? Do I now, knowing that I'll be asked to make a deer caught in the headlights expression, take a few weeks/months before hand to grow a beard/mustache/etc., only to shave it off 10 minutes after walking out of the DMV with my newly minted mug shot?


By tmouse on 5/28/2009 8:10:00 AM , Rating: 2
Part of the glasses issue is the due to reflections, cheap straight on lighting. Thats what contributes to the mug shot look.


"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke














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