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June 01, 2009

No smiles allowed on some states' driver's licenses

Identity theft, as anyone who has been through it would know, is no smiling matter. One reason identity thieves are able to open some accounts is that they are able to get legitimate driver's licenses with their picture but someone else's name, Social Security number or other personal identifiers. I once represented an identity theft victim from Wisconsin whose identity thief used a fake Wisconsin ID to obtain a valid Tennessee driver's license with the identity thief's picture but my client's name and Social Security number on it.

Some of the 9-11 terrorists were even reported to be identity thieves, as they were able to use the personal identifiers (names, Social Security numbers, etc.) of others to obtain real driver's licenses. They then used their fraudulently obtained driver's licenses to obtain flying lessons.

The below article is about several states attempt to curb identity theft by taking away your right to smile on your driver's license, therby enhancing the ability of face recognition software to spot identity thieves.

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.

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