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Don't Smile Now

We have a Supreme Court nomination battle. North Korea is rattling nuclear sabres. The gummint is about to control General Motors. But the best reader comments this morning come on Nick Miroff's delightful story telling us that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles "has issued a smile ban" for driver license photos.

The purpose is to improve the reliability of face-recognition technology, which apparently doesn't like happy faces. Many readers are outraged, some are amused. Sinister plots are suspected. Gov. Tim Kaine is blamed, because what else would you expect from a Democrat? George Orwell and Big Brother are mentioned a number of times. Several readers suggest that Virginia is no longer for lovers.

A few, of course, choose to understand the issue and suggest that in these parlous times of identify theft and international terrorism, a suppressed smile at the DMV might not be the worst thing.

AxelDC wrote, "So, Virginians are supposed to wield as their primary form of ID a card that makes them look bitter and sullen just so the state government can violate their privacy with facial recognition software?... This is an example of bureaucratic excess where some obscure goal trumps commonsense approaches to governing."

alance said, "Once upon a time Virginia was for lovers. Sadly, today Virginia is scared with mean-spirited scrooges issuing a smile ban. Maybe it was the tobacco ban that has caused all their smiles to disappear or perhaps Governor Tim Kaine has taxed away all their smiles."

noybizz wrote, "Well this should be just about the easiest measure any government body has ever implemented. Don't look happy? After waiting through endless lines to talk to a series of bored, disgruntled, borderline retarded people? Gee, OK. Now if they ever ban the stinkeye, that could pose a problem."

ahashburn asked, "Are they next going to not allow facial hair? A man could grow or shave a beard, thereby making him look different than the driver's license photo."

readerny said, "Scary stuff. The government is now telling us we can't smile for the driver's license photo so that they can track us in crowds. Why not just embed an EZPass under our skins and use radio frequency to track us?"

mark16 explained, "This is pretty standard. It's the same with passport photos worldwide. The authorities want a photo that will be most representative of the look the subject will have when they are doing the comparison, and that usually doesn't include a smile, for better or worse."

DupontJay wrote, "...We've already accepted routinely being stopped by police officers and being subjected to their capricious enforcement based on, among other things, whether they like the way you look on your drivers license. This "no smiling" rule is just a reminder that Big Brother has already been here for quite a while. And we love him."

XMLMaestro said, "I do not mind settling for neutral expression for a picture if it reduces counter-feiting. Why is that a problem? If you want to smile you can always do that later. yes, if they tell you not to smile for life that is one thing."

waterfrontproperty wrote, "WOW! This sounds like something the People's Republic of MARYLAND would do, not Virginia."

ih82, who obviously has problems with the realities of the world we live in, said, "There's nothing to smile about to begin with...not with the apathetic peon staff, the fact that half the people there can't speak english, the odor, the wait, and the single moms with their armies of undisciplined offspring..."

DaveGeorge1 asked, "Why not? They apparently banned their employees from smiling. Why should the customers be any different?"

ddpcgraphics predicted, "After reviewing the comments!!!! - hehehehe - it seems The liberals in Virginia are on their way out. This will be an issue in all of the next elections because I will make it so - I finnaly found a mission in life."

SGlover910 wrote, "...I suspect that the **real** story here -- typically, the one NOT reported by the WaPo -- is yet another "public-private partnership". I'll bet that this Orwellian idiocy is the result of some contractor shop leasing some politicians (calling them prostitutes is an insult to working girls), and getting an appropriation for this "security" measure..."

papafritz57 said, "I just renewed my driver's license here in Annapolis and was told just the opposite. I hate to smile for pictures but the clerk asked me to smile. No matter, I think license photos like passport photos make us all look strange."

DD163 wrote, "This is about identity theft...the scanner has to recognize the facial expression... It is in fact for your least it is for those who work and have bank accounts and credit cards"

But ChuckHill1 sees a conspiracy and said, "...This is about something much larger then ID theft. This is about some suit who owns a company and has contributed a large sum of money to some political hack and now it's pay back time with the sale of millions of dollars in equipment from that suits company."

GMHeller wrote, "Poorly researched article. Who was the public official at DMV who actually made the decision to ban smiling on drivers licenses? That's the person who should be hung out to dry...The VA governor, a Democrat of course, better do something about this because I'm not voting for any governor that supports technology over humanity."

We'll close with chunche wrote:
The best driver's license photo I have was taken when the Arlington DMV guy deliberately told a joke."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  May 28, 2009; 7:47 AM ET
Categories:  Virginia Politics  | Tags: Big Brother, DMV, Driver's License, Virginia  
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Next: Sotomayor, Activism and Bias


Aren't VA licenses good for eight years?

If so, this policy will take nearly a decade to fully implement. Anyone who smiled for a license photo as recently as last week will still have a valid license until 2017.

Lost in all of this is the great article by Nick Miroff.

Posted by: JohninMpls | June 1, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute here....

If this extra control and monitoring is all so wonderful, and we're going to feel so much happier and protected, then wouldn't they WANT the pictures be of us smiling because we'll be walking around smiling in the new Orwellian society, right?

Posted by: Swmorgan77 | May 28, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I guess Mr. Feaver did not get the Whitehouse memo, cough-cough, less people are cynical today. Man, wonder if they drew straws choosing to use that one.

I myself am unwilling to dissent but it is an outlet for my cynism. I mean if we can all see the same recurring problems for years upon years without change, then maybe anger does turn to cynism, a right of old age ?

I mean, what are we supposed to do here when North Korea sets off a test nuclear weapon, sing "Happy Days are hear again" ? My first conditioned reaction is in fact to "Duck-n-Cover".

Oh well, too bad for me, we're doing Global Warming this week.

Posted by: markwpa | May 28, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

whoever approved such measures is oblivious as to public sentiment about privacy and a right to simple free speech---smiling is free speech, a first amendment right.

MAKE us NOT smile, i dare you.

Posted by: forestbloggod | May 28, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The funniest thing about the comments is that the conservative commentors think it was liberals who cooked up the new rules, when the new rules are a result of the Real ID Act of 2005, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R) of Wisconsin and strongly support by the Heritage Foundation and anti immagration groups and opposed by civil liberty groups such as the ACLU.

Posted by: Frazil | May 28, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I love this. Oh happy (not) day. Signed, Oscar the Grouch.

Posted by: mj777nnnntgggg1 | May 28, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

A neutral facial expression for government-issued ID is a standard requirement in a lot of countries. You cannot smile for your passport or driver's license.

Posted by: CrestwoodKat | May 28, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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