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New Jersey DMV cuts the cheese

If New Jersey's new driver's license photo policy catches on here, you may be saying "fuggedaboutit" instead of "cheese" when posing for your next West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles renewal photo.

Since installing new face-recognition software earlier this year, Garden State residents getting new or renewed driver's licenses have been discouraged from flashing ear-splitting grins - or for that matter, face-contorting scowls - when getting their DMV photos taken.

The software was added to prevent someone from fraudulently obtaining another person's identity to get insurance benefits or obtain a license under another name to avoid a DUI suspension. If, for instance, a face in a new DMV photo matches a face in an old one issued in another name, investigators are automatically alerted to the scheme and intervene.

The new policy came to light last week, when an otherwise cheerful woman getting a renewal photo at a DMV office in Cherry Hill was asked not to smile. When she balked at the request and wasn't given a plausible explanation for the policy shift, brought the no-smile-zone policy to the attention of the Philadelphia Daily News.

A spokesman for the New Jersey DMV told the News that small Mona Lisa-like smiles were okay, but big toothpaste commercial grins were not.  If facial expressions vary too much in images of the same person, he explained, the software could incorrectly raise a red flag.

I've always wondered why our DMV photographers seem to encourage smiling. If you're being pulled over by a sheriff's deputy and asked to produce your license and registration, odds are you won't be grinning like a TV weatherman when the lawman shines a flashlight in your face and compares that image with the one in his hand.

Instead of telling you when to smile, the DMV shooters should be telling you when to squint, possibly using a bright flashlight to help produce the desired effect. A chart showing a variety of moderately surly expressions could be posted to give habitual smilers a look to aim for.

Having such a policy in place would make the roadside identification process faster and more accurate.  DMV photos are seldom a source of pride to begin with. How many people do you know who keep albums of their expired licenses?

Once the no-grin policy is enacted and enforced, the DMV may have to address an even more egregious source of driver's license fraud, and install ruler-equipped scales in their licensing offices.

A 12-month campaign season produces fewer lies that a week's worth of height and weight statements at a busy DMV office.

I should know. I'm officially six-foot-two and weigh 180 pounds.

But if you see me in a crowded elevator, you may want to wait for the next car.


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