Dangerous looks

Be careful who you resemble.

By Charles P. Pierce
August 7, 2011

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Dear John Gass: I noticed your story back in July when there was a whole spate of stories about how many of our local police departments were going to get high-techy facial-recognition software to aim at us when we’re walking down the street, parking our cars, or booing J.D. Drew at Fenway. This is the latest in CrimeBuster technology developed by Law Enforcement Behemoth LLC (motto: The 14th Amendment Makes a Great Wall Hanging). It will guarantee that if Ayman al-Zawahiri is out barhopping on Harvard Ave., they’ll be able to spot him among all the other skeevy dudes with scraggly beards. Or, as you learned, perhaps not. Apparently, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (motto: Necessity Is the Mother of Inertia) applied facial recognition to your driver’s license photo and the giant mechanical brain decided you were committing fraud. According to news reports, it took you 10 days to straighten the whole thing out – which, to be fair, may be something of a land-speed record for the RMV.

I can’t help but be alarmed, though. There never has been software so finely calibrated that it can recognize someone from their driver’s license photo. Nobody looks like themselves. Everyone looks as though they got pulled over with Gary Busey. By my own license photo, you could accuse me of being a Russian mobster and get a conviction in every court in the country. Da.

Charles P. Pierce /

  • August 7, 2011 cover
  • August 7, 2011 cover
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