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New Jersey straight-faced on smiling ban

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So just how fragile is the authoritative identity source in New Jersey’s computer files.

It seems a smile is all it takes to beat the system.

The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles won’t allow residents to smile for their driver's license photos. In fact, since January there has been a ban on uncovered teeth. (The DMV claims it looks the other way on slight grins).

Why?

Officials say smiling or making other bold facial expressions injects confusion into their facial recognition computer system.

For a technology that claims accuracy rates that hover just below 100%, it’s a “glitch” that raises level-of-assurance questions when it comes to authentication.

New Jersey says it is targeting fraud, theorizing that a new driver's license photo may match an old one filed under a different name.

"That could be someone trying to steal someone else's identity to get insurance benefits, or someone trying to get out of a DUI by getting a license under another name," Mike Horan, spokesman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, told the Philadelphia Daily News. "This helps us weed out fraud.”

Pennsylvania officials who use a similar system told the newspaper they don’t have a similar ban.

The smiling ban not only helps that state’s dour computer system, it puts New Jersey in line to participate in a federal program launched by the FBI.

The agency is spending $1 billion on a new surveillance system called Next Generations Identification (NGI), which places a heavy emphasis on facial recognition technology.

The project started in 2008 when the FBI awarded Lockheed Martin a 10-year, $1 billion contract to develop and maintain the NGI for use by state, local and federal authorities. The critical mass of rollouts is expected to come in the next few years with 2018 the target date for completion of the initiative.

Right now, the feds have one striking difference from New Jersey, they are only using photos of known criminals, according to the July Senate testimony of Jerome Pender, the FBI’s deputy assistant director.

But the ultimate FBI goal is to pick faces out of crowds. And the FBI will have access to personally identifiable information (PII) stored by states – including  biometrics like driver's license photos – to match people caught on camera.

Heaven help them if the bad guys are smiling.

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