Why is smiling forbidden in passport photos?

People would often like to see themselves smiling in their photographs. However, the photos that we take for various identity cards or IDs would often have restrictions. The authorities in many countries forbid any person from smiling on their passport photos due to certain reasons. Countries like the U.S. and Canada have already implemented laws adhering to the no-smiling policy, and more countries are jumping on the bandwagon. It is not just smiling that is prohibited in identity cards, but also frowning, glaring, and anything that creates a significant change in the facial features are virtually banned from the passport pictures.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the United Nations agency concerned with air transport, has recommended to countries to remind their people not to laugh in the passport photos. The applicants for passports are supposed to hold a neutral expression. A hint of smile or smirk is alright, as long as it doesn’t actually change the facial structure of too much. A toothy grin, or a smile where the front teeth are showing, is strictly forbidden.

Many people are vexed over these restrictions, as they thought that added the no-smiling policy on photos is an unnecessary restriction. However, the policy is imposed to make it easy to apply security measures, since it would be easier to identify someone suspicious with a resting or neutral expression. The new regulation for passport photos began to be put in place at the turn of the 21st century when the biometric system was introduced to several government agencies. Today, all the major airports in the world use advanced biometric devices to scan the photos and to identify whether the passport actually belongs to the person who passed it for identification. The scanning software would compare your face to a database of obtained photos from passports or even other identity cards that you have submitted. The biometric scan would then start identifying various points on your face and comparing them to the existing photos. The scan would take a look at certain factors in your facial features, such as the shape of your eyes, your nose, and even the distance between eyes, hence the reason why they play important roles in the identification process.

Any expression that alters our facial features significantly, like frowning or smiling, can cause complications to the process of identification. A simple smile or any small facial expression can usually change the configuration of our eyes, and the change will reflect in the biometric details. When the position of the parts of our face changes, the biometric points would shift as well, making the process quite difficult for the system to identify whether it is truly you who is presented in the passport photo. If you have a neutral expression in the photo, the system has an easier and faster time processing your requests, whether it would be for you to be granted permission to fly, or even to apply for another identity card by submitting your passport.

The restrictions for official photos are not just limited to our expressions but our other facial features as well. People are not allowed to have hair hanging before their eyes, as the hair would often make it harder to see your eyes in the photo. In addition, you can’t cover your hair unless it concerns religious practices, although the haircut that you sport in the photo doesn’t really matter if you have a different haircut now. The primary facial features should also not be hidden from view, and these features include moles and beauty marks. Glasses are fine to wear during the photo-taking, as long as they are in the correct angle that won’t reflect the light on the camera, as it allows your eyes to show more clearly.

The increasing terror attacks and consequent paranoia in several countries in the world have made the authorities leave no stone unturned in implement security measures, especially in airports where the criminals would usually be when there is a planned foreign attack. The reason for implementing a no-smiling policy is to prevent attacks before they could even happen, as they will be able to identify terrorists or criminals better using passport photos, security cameras, and a biometrics system that will compare the passport photo with the live footage from the cameras.