• 03.31.17

No more big smiles in your ID photo: You might foil face recognition :-/

The government’s exploding interest in face recognition is leading to a new rule at DMVs around the country—no big smiles. Rather than saying “cheese” in Idaho, for instance, citizens should only wear “an expressionless face and a pleasant smile,” Idaho DMV spokesperson Jake Melder told the Idaho Statesman earlier this month. “You can’t be showing teeth.” In February, authorities announced a similar policy in Colorado

The new no-grin rules—part of standards set by REAL ID, a 2005 federal policy that governs domestic air travel documents—have been adopted by two dozen states, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The rest have until Jan 22, 2018, to comply. 

Facial recognition software—which can struggle with faces that aren’t photographed “cooperatively,” or head-on, with minimal facial expressions—is increasingly being used by individual states to crack down on identity theft, and by the FBI and law enforcement to conduct virtual lineups, sometimes spanning as much as half of the U.S. adult population: 18 states share their drivers license databases with the FBI as part of a large “face services” system targeted at catching criminals. (Idaho or Colorado are not currently part of the program.) 
One possibility privacy advocates are not grinning about: real-time face recognition of citizens captured by the lenses of police body cameras. I wrote recently about that controversial application, and how lawmakers are questioning the FBI’s assurances on accuracy and privacy.