BMV: Don't Smile, Wear Glasses

Smiles Confuse Facial Recognition Software

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles is restricting glasses, hats, scarves -- and even smiles -- in driver's license photographs.

The new rules imposed last month were deemed necessary so that facial recognition software can spot fraudulent license applications, said BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough.


The software compares applicants' new photographs with old photographs on file to protect them from identity fraud, said BMV commissioner Ron Stiver.

"We take very seriously our responsibility to help protect the personal identity of Hoosiers, and the employment of this innovative technology is yet another important step forward in doing just that," Stiver said.

The new technology represents an advancement of what the BMV already was doing, Rosebrough said. BMV employees always have looked at the old photo of a person to see if it looked like the person seeking a new license.

"The way our technology works, overnight, it would do a complete database search," Rosebrough said. "If there was an issue, it would pop up on a report that would be followed up on the next day."

Indiana is one of about 20 states using the facial recognition technology, he said, and other states have similar restrictions on driver's license photographs.

"We believe it's our responsibility to assure all Hoosiers the credentials we issue ... are as accurate as possible," Rosebrough said.

BMV officials want driver's license photographs to accurately show people's permanent facial features. That means that glasses need to be removed. And if a person has hair hanging their face, it should be swept aside. Smiling is also restricted because it can distort facial features measured by the software, Rosebrough said.

"Anything that would obstruct that permanent physical feature would then diminish the reliability and effectiveness of the technology," he said.

BMV customers can petition to leave on headdresses in photographs for religious reasons and can petition to have a non-photo license or identification card, Rosebrough said.

He said there have been few problems with implementing the new rules.

"If people understand why we're doing something, our experience is the great, great majority of our customers say, 'Fine, we get it,"' Rosebrough said.

Many motorists who 6News' Julie Pursley spoke with Monday said they were surprised by the restrictions.

"I'd have a hard time. I really can not not smile," said Amber Mohling.

"I don't know what to think about it. Things are just getting sillier and sillier," said Garry Crawford.

Other drivers said that anything that helps protect them from the possibility of identity theft is welcomed.

"It's really, really important. Any measure they can take … is well worthwhile doing," said Jeff Rau.