Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Say cheese! Just don't smile when you say it

According to reports, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada and Arkansas are asking people not to smile in driver's license photos. (I've since tossed out the links I originally had on this entry, because Arkansas, Nevada and Indiana have clarified that smiling is permitted, as long as it isn't exaggerated. Apparently, USA Today got a lot of flak from officials for its report on this. But it's still much-discussed, so here we go.)

One rationale is that the photo has to match those of past licenses, as a way of ensuring that the right person is applying for the license. Because no one ever ages or changes their looks. I predict a lot of retro hairdos coming back for those who got their licenses in a past decade. Imagine that, beehives coming back! Hope you liked your braided goatee in 1999, because that's you from here on out, Fred.

Another line - and my favorite - is that a neutral, dull expression is required because toothy smiles trip up facial-recognition software. That's right, kids: we must do all we can to help Big Brother and its apparently blonde technology catch us in whatever illicit act we're going to inevitably commit! Just be sure to keep a straight face during your crime, to better to facilitate your capture.

On the bureaucratic front, the technology is supposed to match your new picture to your previous pictures, to ensure DMV clerks that someone isn't pretending to be you. Which has got to work, at least as long as you've been posing grim and nine-eleveny for all these years. I wonder what my experience will be like, considering I've smiled in every license photo I've ever had. If I don't smile, will I be accused of being an identity thief? Or if I do, will I be hauled to jail for being a terrorist sympathizer? Such a paradox! Maybe I'll avoid this altogether and never renew my license. Yeah, that's got to work!

In at least 31 states, these technologies reportedly work fine with smiles and, even when they don't, actual human beings can make the call. But what fun is that?

I like the rules against glasses and headgear, too, because people who wear glasses and headgear all the time shouldn't have that represented on their ID.

Advocates for the no-smiling rule compare it to the rigors needed to secure a passport. Like that's needed to travel around Podunk in your 1987 Chrysler. Anyway, smiling in passports is not completely banned yet.

I hope this idiotic crap doesn't catch on. Now is as good a time as any to break from the mind-set that citizens need to change to fit our omnipresent (yet flawed) security apparatus. Being grim and techno-paranoid hasn't made us any safer, but it has robbed us of much to smile about. But just try and stop me at the DMV.


Hathor said...

You just save your sour face for your blog.

Ian McGibboney said...

Yeah, I guess it appears that way sometimes. I'm actually a pretty happy guy who tends to be inspired by what pisses me off.