The software that stops you smiling in New Jersey

Because the state has invested in facial recognition software, you can't smile on your New Jersey driver's license photo. The software is confused by smiling.

The Governor has a lovely smile. State of New Jersey screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

New Jersey is a sprawling, cheery place.

It's a place whose buses carry the aspiring and the ambitious in excessive proximity, each one of them dreaming of a studio in Brooklyn.

It's a place with few great restaurants, but many people just happy to live their lives and not have to watch NBA games anymore. Until they finally get that studio in Brooklyn, that is.

How odd, then, that New Jerseyites aren't allowed to express their inner contentment when they have their driver's license picture taken.

My lips turned tight with fury at the news from The Philadelphia Inquirer that New Jersey this year invested in facial recognition software.

You will be stunned into moving to northern Canada, when I tell you that this software requires humans to behave like robots.

Its small mind has no room for personal expression. It has no room for glee or even a smile of wryness. It doesn't even have room for a nostril flared in protest.

The Inquirer quoted Mike Horan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: "To get an accurate photo, you don't want an excessively expressive face in the photo."

His definition of accuracy is that of the closeted apparatchik. Under the guise of catching fraudsters, New Jerseyites must subsume their personas.

It's hard enough standing in line at your local DMV in order to complete the driver's license process. It's hard enough living in New Jersey when you could bathe in the glorious sunshine of California, rather than the sticky haze to which you are condemned.

So to be forced to provide a sour, ready-made mugshot seems like excessive cruelty.

Indeed, when a New Jerseyite is stopped under suspicion of, say, driving tipsy at excessive speeds in a rainy outside lane, what will the policeman think the minute he sees the person's driver's license?

Guilty, of course. And probably harboring drugs in the car too.

Surely the people of New Jersey should rise up and object to this Big Brotherish imposition. They should march in the streets, sporting insistent grins. They should invoke their own Governor -- a man of more expressions than Shakespeare.

Does New Jersey really want to be associated with Arkansas, Nevada, Indiana, and Virginia, which also have a no-smile policy?

If the bureaucrats who have instigated this stricture aren't sufficiently ashamed, might I offer the example of Pennsylvania, not -- by reputation in the sports world, at least -- the cheeriest of American states?

Pennsylvania uses the very same software. However, Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, told the Inquirer: "You can smile in Pennsylvania."

 

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