Smiling Not Allowed

This is how the government breaks your face.

Ever wonder why you are told NOT to smile for your Passport or Driver’s License picture (or your booking photo, for that matter, but that probably narrows down the number of you who can identify with the question)? There’s a reason. It’s called Facial Recognition Software and it’s a technology that analyses photos of faces and breaks them down into unique numeric codes that claim to individually identify a person. The software essentially scans a face, breaks it down into various regions (cheekbones, eyes, etc.) and assigns numeric values to each of these regions. The resulting numerical value is claimed to be unique for every face scanned and technologists claim they are able to identify people based simply on a photograph of the person.

This is not some futuristic scenario, this is happening today. It’s why you might get a notice from Facebook that you have appeared in someone’s posted photo. Facebook actually uses Facial Recognition Software to scan every face in every photo on its site and uses it to help identify people for just this reason. You should keep in mind that the State Department also uses this software and tracks every face on every passport and driver’s license, but probably for very different reasons. All of those faces are available to law enforcement across the nation for whatever purposes they come up with.

Police in New York, for example, have started taking images caught on surveillance cameras around town and on social media and are sending them through Facial Recognition Software in order to locate suspects. At least, that’s what they’re telling us at this point. What else they are doing with your picture is anyone’s guess.

The software does not work well with smiles or profiles. So next time you have your photo taken at the Department of Motor Vehicle Licensing, or send in a picture for a passport, and are told not to smile, you’ll know why.

Read about the NYPD’s usage here.

– RP