"To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements, we're asking customers to maintain a neutral expression," said Virginia DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen.
Few places in Virginia are as draining to the soul and as numbing to the buttocks as the branch offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles. And yet, until recently, smiling was still permitted there.
No more. As part of the DMV's effort to develop super-secure driver's licenses and foolproof identification cards, the agency has issued a smile ban, directing customers to adopt a "neutral expression" in their portraits, thereby doing away with one of the few reasons to wear a grin after waiting for one's number to be called.
The driver's license photo, it seems, is destined to look like a mug shot.
DMV officials say the smile ban is for a good cause. The agency would like to develop a facial recognition system that could compare customers' photographs over time to prevent fraud and identification theft.
"The technology works best when the images are similar," said DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen. "To prepare for the possibility of future security enhancements, we're asking customers to maintain a neutral expression."
At a DMV in Manassas, Va., that translated to a simple directive: "Don't smile."
That's exactly what a DMV attendant told Maria Quispe when she sat down against the white backdrop and attempted to look happy for the photo she would be carrying around for much of the next eight years.
"Say cheese," said her stepdaughter, Alexandra Lopez.
"No cheese today," the DMV attendant said.
The shutter clicked, and the attendant consulted a computer monitor, then shook her head disapprovingly.
Quispe's teeth had been visible. Strike one. "Your mouth was open," the attendant said.
Quispe's second attempt turned out sufficiently dull.
"It's going to be so ugly," Quispe said afterward. "This is like being in the Army!"