It seems that it won’t be long before you’ll find facial recognition technology when you apply for a driver’s license. And as a result, you better wipe that smile off your face.
In fact, the technology is already in place in Australia. When Aussie drivers apply for licenses they’ll have their pictures taken, and the new software will then measure three distances: the spaces between the eyes, nose, and mouth.
License applicants won’t notice a drastic difference in the process, but they’ll notice they are asked not to smile while the photo is being taken. The machines require a “neutral expression” in order to pick up the correct measurements. According to creators of the facial recognition software, two photos of the same person can be mismatched if there is a strong expression in one versus the other.
Why all the fancy technology? Australia is using the calculations in comparison to the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) database, and if it appears that an applicant is trying to get a license under a different name the system will flag the authorities.
Although it’s stated that the “system is designed to prevent people who have had their license taken away from applying for a second one,” stopping “license cheats” is only the skin-deep argument.
The deeper issue is identity theft. According to David Borger, the state of New South Wales’ assistant transport minister, “Identity fraud costs Australia more than $3.5 billion a year.” That’s about a third of a percent of the nation’s entire gross domestic product, almost as much as New South Wales spends on its entire road system in a year.
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If it sounds like things are getting all Minority Report in the land Down Under, well, that’s nothing compared to what could potentially happen in the U.S.
In fact, four states already implement the “no smiling” rule, including Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia. Over 30 in the U.S. have a digital photography capture for their identification cards.
Between the security measures states are adding, the trials of Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs), the federal government’s Real ID program, and corporations actively planning for higher security, a mere RFID chip is going to look like the 19th century when you could just write an “X” to sign your name.
And unsurprisingly, a number of people aren’t exactly happy about it.
To be honest, though, this isn’t just about gathering information. Just with the records currently stored by your driver’s license, cell phone and wireless carrier, Internet Service Provider, credit card companies, Facebook, and even your Amazon Kindle, the authorities only need a few phone calls to build a good profile and history on you.
Wisconsin started comparing digital driver’s license photos to those in its database back in 2005. In 2008, New Mexico began comparing photos to its own database and to a national database called the Problem Driver Pointer System. Last year Virginia began taking photos at the beginning of the application process so it can figure out if you’re who you say you are before any paperwork gets shuffled. It also began issuing licenses from one central location instead of passing them over-the-counter at regional DMV offices.
On the national level, the Department of Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is encouraging institution and study of Enhanced Driver’s Licenses that will allow border crossings in North America. More than an ID but less than a passport, it is currently available in some border states and only to U.S. citizens. In fact, even the people who issue the EDL must be American citizens. The EDL must contain an RFID chip, and some, like New York’s EDL, have additional machine readable zones (MRZs) that contain license information.
But the grandaddy is the Real ID, another Homeland Security program, which has been delayed a few times as individuals, states, and even Congressional representatives have fought it. Final nationwide implementation set for 2014 or 2017 depending on when you were born, and while there is no reason it couldn’t get pushed back again, there is every reason to believe that its adoption is inevitable.
The Real ID, effectively a national identity card, will require issuers will go through background checks and all information will be centrally stored.
The expected pockets of opposition to all of this come from various corners, from those worried about privacy to those worried about gun rights, terrorism, and even identity fraud.
Thankfully, there is an out: about a dozen states still allow you to get driver’s licenses that don’t even have photos on them.