Please Don’t Smile

In the process of renewing my passport, I came across an interesting development within the State Department.  It seems that many Americans have been entirely too happy as of late and they want to change that.  Actually, they are just changing the guidelines for identification photos.  As of January 1st, passport photos that portray a smiling subject will no longer be accepted.

ABC News – You better not crack a smile in your passport photo

December 3, 2004 — If you’re traveling out of the country in the near future you know what you have to do, check out that passport to make sure it’s still valid. And while you’re at it, take a good look at your old passport picture. Are you smiling? If you are, when you get your next photo taken, you won’t be.

That’s right. From now on the state department says we should wipe that smile off our face. They say it’s because when we smile, in a sense, we change our faces and we really don’t look exactly like us.

“No smiling, no frowning. The passport agency wants to see the person’s natural face in a relaxed state,” said Karen O’Brien, manager “Travisa” Office in Chicago.

They say it has nothing to do with extra security. It’s just so immigration officers can more easily compare the real you with the photo you. So don’t go “cheese.”

“Nothing to do with security”?  I’d say it has everything to do with security.  As a matter-of-fact, I’d say it has everything to do with Facial Recognition.

Following 9/11 there were a bevy of security companies competing to waste earn our tax dollars.  Biometric industries seized the opportunity to peddle their wares and move into the Homeland Security Agency spotlight.  In June of 2002, the government sponsored a conference with all the biometric industry leaders and the focus was on facial recognition.  This is where FERET comes in to play.

The FERET program ran from 1993 through 1997. Sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Counterdrug Technology Development Program through the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA), its primary mission was to develop automatic face recognition capabilities that could be employed to assist security, intelligence and law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties.  Source:

The FERET program was terminated for several reasons: high cost, failure rate and privacy concerns were the major factors.  Following the conference in 2002, the FERET program was given new life and is now being used in collaboration with private companies.  The deployment seems to be moving ahead even though DARPA has openly stated that the improvements in accuracy have been minimal.  Companies such as Ratheon and Imagis have been closing key deals with government agencies.  It will only be a matter of time before security personnel know who you are before you even know they’re present.  Just don’t smile.



6 thoughts on “Please Don’t Smile

  1. In Japan, they didn’t want me to smile for my foreigner card.  I think smiling was never common for official documents here…so I guess I’m not surprized now.  But it’s just really hard not to smile!  It took several attempts to get the photo for that card, and the one I ended up with looks like I have a stick up my butt from trying not to smile.

    On the other hand, I certainly don’t think an enforced lack of smiling will have any effect on terrorism.

  2. I certainly don’t think an enforced lack of smiling will have any effect on terrorism.

    Ah, but wait! Soon men will be required to be clean-shaven when taking passport photos and travelling.

  3. Soon men will be required to be clean-shaven when taking passport photos

    I’d be willing to bet the next generation of digital identification imaging will be able to see right through the beard, hair, head-scarves, etc.  The technology to do it is already available on the consumer level.

  4. I read about this in the NYT.  Apparently it does have everything to do with face recognition, although the software still doesn’t deal well with aging … and the passports are good for ten years.  You can do an awful lot of hard livin’ on a passport in ten years. grin

  5. It’s the same here in Canada….my girlfriend works in a photo place and they tell you to hide your teeth, take off your glasses, remove shiny make up, remove your jewelry, wipe the extra grease off your face and they flash the background so that there are no shadows behind you.
    They also prefer black and white photos.

    They preferably want to see both your ears.

    oh yeah, the bureau of passports refused a photo once because the lady had some fabric fluff (white) on her black blouse.

    Scary…isn’t it ?

  6. Same in Ireland, your face must have a “neutral expression” in the photos, but you are allowed to wear religious headgear.

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