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New Jersey tells drivers: You can't smile too much in license photos

With its infamous long lines, going to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get your license is usually nothing to smile about. These days, it's a mandatory no-big-smiles policy in New Jersey, one of a growing list of states that tell drivers drivers to keep a poker face in their license photos.

Since February, New Jersey motorists have had to maintain neutral expressions on their faces for photographs because of new face-recognition software. Exaggerated facial expressions, like smiling widely, can confuse this software, which is intended to catch fraud, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.


This practice is nothing new and works with other photo guidelines, like eyes needing to be open and no glasses, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission spokesperson Elyse Coffey told NBC News on Thursday.

"Please don’t give us the 'I-just-won-five-million-dollars-in-the-lottery-smile," Coffey said. Instead, she said, residents can smile in a natural way.

Using the facial-recognition technology is part of New Jersey's effort to go through 19 million photo records to catch duplicates, scammers who are trying to create a new identity or people trying to cheat another state agency for services, according to Coffey.

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On Tuesday, New Jersey resident Velvet S. McNeil told the Daily News that she was so baffled why she couldn't smile when she went to take her driver's license picture in Cherry Hill, N.J., that she left in protest. "Why should we all look like androids, looking mopey? I know there are some people who don't have good driver's licenses, but I actually keep all mine," McNeil told the Daily News.

But now that McNeil, 38, knows about the policy, she told the Daily News that she will return to renew her license.

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"Some, not all, of the facial recognition technologies can be adversely impacted if a person’s expression is anything other than neutral," said Claire O'Brien, spokesperson for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, in a statement. "In other words, smiling could potentially affect the accuracy of the technology."

New Jersey is not alone in its photo rule: Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia are among states that require "neutral facial expressions" to combat fraud, according to a USA TODAY report in 2009.

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