Boise & Garden City

Toothy grins now prohibited on Idaho driver’s licenses

This is a sample driver’s license provided by the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles. Motorists are asked not to flash a big grin until after they get their photo taken.
This is a sample driver’s license provided by the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles. Motorists are asked not to flash a big grin until after they get their photo taken.

The DMV isn’t typically a place that elicits a lot of smiles.

But when you’re stuck with a driver’s license photo for up to eight years, you might as well smile, right?

Smiling is permitted for Idaho driver’s licenses — but last fall state officials began regulating how we smile.

This is no joke.

Toothy smiles are no longer permitted because the DMV is about to launch new facial recognition software that is designed to help stop identity theft, said DMV spokesman Jake Melder, a former KIVI-Channel 6 reporter who admits he’s generally a “toothy smile” guy.

Melder said the software can help stop identity theft by scanning through database photos, preventing one person from getting licenses under different names.

Idaho isn’t the first to use the facial recognition software — which some privacy-rights groups and individuals oppose as part of the slippery slope of government collecting and using our personal data in ways we might not expect or know about.

By 2013, about three-quarters of all states were using facial-recognition technology in driver’s license registries, according to a tally by The Washington Post.

Virginia was one of four states that adopted a “no smile” policy in 2009 in anticipation of using the facial-recognition software. They repealed that policy in 2015 in a gleeful announcement on their Facebook page.

“We agree with Buddy the Elf — smiling is wonderful,” the Virginia DMV said in a Dec. 21, 2015, message to motorists.

The Virginia DMV never used the facial-recognition software that led to the “no smiles” policy, and now they’ve got advanced technology that doesn’t require a tooth-less smile, according to The Post. Virginia’s software can analyze skin texture and the shape of eyes, eyebrows, chins, jawbones and even the corners of mouths.

“We heard loud and clear from customers that they prefer posing with smiles,” DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb said in a press release.

Melder said he was unaware of any revolt by Idaho motorists who favor toothy grins. The smile policy went into effect last fall but the software hasn’t been turned on yet because final details are being worked out.

So what exactly is allowed in Idaho?

“An expressionless face and a pleasant smile,” Melder said. “You can’t be showing teeth.”

A “pleasant smile” is one with the sides of your mouth upturned, and your lips are closed,” Melder clarified.

That’s not a smirk — remember, they said “pleasant” not smug.

The facial biometrics data gathered by the Idaho DMV will be kept in state, Melder said. But a limited number of agencies, including law enforcement, could request access to the information.

There are currently 1.4 million active driver’s license in Idaho, including 304,149 in Ada County, according to DMV data.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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