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New Jersey bans smiles on driver's licenses to safeguard facial recognition

New Jersey bans smiles on driver's licenses to safeguard facial recognition
Residents of New Jersey aren't allowed to smile on their driver’s license, but there isn't a prohibition on looking pleased. Jersey is just the latest state that's inputting identities in a vast information system running facial recognition software.

When the friendly photographers at your local DMV office ask you to look at the camera next time you pose for a Garden State-sanctioned license, don’t be surprised if they ask you to put away your pearly whites. New Jersey no longer allows residents to smile widely on state driver’s licenses, and it isn’t because being blissful is against the law. The state says that their database of drivers becomes hard to manage when images start to include more and more grins and smirks, so banning smiles will streamline their process of being able to positively identify someone by simply sending a photo of their face back to the government’s computers.

New Jersey updated their rules for driver’s license photos back in January, but news of the change also came around last week following an article in The Philadelphia Daily News. In it, reporter Dana DiFilippo reveals that the new rules aren’t an attempt to reestablish motor vehicle departments as damning, hellish hubs of bureaucratic back-and-forths and endless queues. Smiling widely or making other exaggerated facial expressions, DiFilippo writes, might confuse the computer.

"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," New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission spokesperson Mike Horan tells Daily News. "This helps us weed out fraud."

It also, however, can assist the state and even federal agencies in identifying anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

Earlier this month, RT reported on the FBI’s ramped up efforts to implement a vast state-of-the-art face recognition project across the entire country, a system that has so far cost the Federal Bureau of Investigation at least $1 billion and has involved no fewer than seven years’ worth of development. Defense contractors Lockheed Martin were awarded the contract in 2008 and with that were tasked with creating the Next Generation Identification (NGI) program, an intelligence infrastructure that the FBI insisted must be able to identify subjects in public databases, conduct automated surveillance and track personal movement from place-to-place.

New Scientist magazine wrote earlier this month that not only is the face recognition technology used by NGI accurate 92 percent of the time, but that the program has been rolled out in select locales already and will be in full use across America by 2014, at which point it will include as many as 14 million photographs of US citizens.

Since the FBI regularly shares intelligence with local law enforcement agencies, the New Jersey DMV’s database of driver profiles can without a doubt be offered to federal staffers for the sake of more easily setting their sights on suspicious persons.

New Jersey had roughly 6 million registered drivers in their files as of 2004, and is assumed to only have added to that number in the few years since. Elsewhere, though, millions of others are being banned from smiling so that their mug can more easily be matched up with surveillance conducted from seemingly anywhere.

Through the NGI system, the FBI will be able to pull personally-identifiable biometrics from images on file — such as drivers’ license photos — in order to match the profile of persons caught on camera. Information in those files can then be shared at massive fusion centers, huge processing facilities that accumulate and analyze intelligence inputted from an array of agencies.

As RT reported earlier this year, the New Jersey Transportation Corporation asked for $662,000 as recently as last November to purchase and implement TrapWire, a risk mitigation technology developed by Virginia’s Abraxas Applications that collects and combs through live video footage from public and private surveillance cameras across the country. TrapWire attempts to search for suspicious persons and patterns using their own advanced face-recognition system, but all the while opens up the possibility of putting any American outside of their house into direct surveillance that is sent to a guarded facility and shared with other agencies around the world.

Now under New Jersey’s latest maneuver, the state is going out of their way to make sure that millions of drivers will have the personally-identifiable features of their faces logged and linked on their computers — the same systems that have the ability to share intelligence with federal and local agencies of all kinds.

That isn’t to say that Jersey residents aren’t the only ones that should be concerned, of course. Just as how it took nine months for news of the face-recognition program there to make it to the news, similar efforts have been undertaken across the United States. In 2009, four states — Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia—all passed similar legislation.

When Indiana went ahead with the rule change that year, Dennis Rosebrough of the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles told the Associated Press that drivers were much more understand and willing to adhere to the rules when told it’s an issue of national security, not a "bureaucrat's whim."

In response to a similar measure passed that year in Virginia, DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen told The Washington Post that her state was enacting the rule "To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements” Only three years later though, face-recognition technology is being rolled out around the country and those security enhancements exist right before our eyes — the developers behind the FBI’s NGI say that faces can be picked up from one camera and matched from pools of millions of citizens already on file with the likelihood of an error being logged less than one-out-of-ten.