COLUMN: Smile, you’re on surveillance camera
Advice to apprentice hold-up guys and gals: The next time you hit a convenience store, look straight into the surveillance camera and smile.
That should enable you to execute your robbery anonymously. I’m told on good authority – the good authority being the folks in charge of driver’s licenses in New Jersey – that a smile can throw off the facial-recognition software now being used to identify thugs and protect ordinary people from identity theft.
New Jersey now instructs applicants not to smile when they’re being photographed for their driver’s licenses.
I quit smiling a long time ago. The principal reason was that, after standing in line for half a day waiting for my number to be called, I didn’t feel like smiling.
Another reason is that when I smile I bear an uncanny resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman, the jug-eared cover kid for Mad magazine. At least I resembled him when I was a lot younger.
So when I have my driver’s license photo taken, I try to look sober and dignified, which is tough for a guy who spends a lot of his time trying to write redneck humor.
The New Jersey folks use humorless software that doesn’t recognize a person who is smiling. Maybe that’s because it seldom sees a Jerseyite smiling, though surely there are a few of them emerging with their winnings from the Atlantic City casinos, and there must be an occasional trifecta winner at Monmouth.
The last time I landed at Newark’s airport, nobody was smiling. I had Homeland Security people swarming all over me with electronic stuff searching every nook and cranny of my body for metal stuff. I don’t know why they pulled me out of line and stopped just short of a strip search. I was wearing my South Carolina “We don’t make these things up” T-shirt and my Georgia Dawgs cap, was carrying my personal effects in a Walmart bag and was saying “How y’all doin’?” to every stranger I met.
I guess it was the smile.The Jersey software will scan driver’s license photographs. If the software recognizes a face that has been attached to another name, it will sound the alarm and the authorities will pounce.
In neighboring New York, they don’t care whether you smile or not. Their software is set up to recognize you whether you’re smiling because the Yankees are atop the American League East or frowning because the Mets are next to last in the National League East.
The New York driver’s license folks probably use the same software they use in CSI New York, which is a nifty piece of equipment. Stella just smiles and inserts a partial fingerprint and instantly a photo of the owner turns up, complete with address and telephone number. Mac Taylor, who looks a lot like Forrest Gump’s Lieutenant Dan except that he has both legs, heads out to make the collar.
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission hasn’t gotten that good yet. Maybe it’s because there is no CSI New Jersey, although occasionally Mac and his crew cross the Hudson River when the bloody trail leads to Atlantic City or Newark.
But New Jersey hopes to build up a database that will enable police to pick out the unsmiling faces of criminals caught in the act by security cameras.
I’ve seen lots of security-camera shots of Golden Pantry robbers shown nightly on the 11 o’clock 7-on-Your-Side Live, Local, Breaking News. I can never tell whether they’re smiling, because the pictures are about as fuzzy as those snapshots of Aunt Rose and Uncle Henry on their 1962 honeymoon at South of the Border on their way to Myrtle Beach.
Maybe the pictures are blurry because the robbers were smart enough to smile while helping themselves to the cash and the beef jerky. I’m not sure why Aunt Rose and Uncle Henry were blurry, but I suspect that at least Uncle Henry was smiling.
It appears to me that the Jerseyites are trying to set up a machine like the one used on “Person of Interest.” That machine has an all-seeing eye that can tell when somebody is in danger and can promptly send John Reese to the rescue. Reese is a one-man Navy Seal team, and his boss, Harold Finch, has all the intellectual acumen of the “Criminal Minds” crew.
The “Person of Interest” software can recognize people with or without smiles, but it does seem to have one major drawback: It monitors only those people who live in New York City within the NYPD precinct where detective Joss Carter is on duty. That means that if the mob decides to target you in Augusta or Columbia or Aiken, you’re on your own.
I find it outrageous that the people of Detective Carter’s precinct in New York are deemed to be more worthy of Big Brother’s protection than law-abiding folks in Aiken County.
I suspect, though that Apple Computers has a solution for us just around the corner. As soon as every household in this recession-plagued land is suitably equipped with an iPhone 5 for every member, we’ll get an iPhone 6 that can be worn on the lapel. It will feature a surveillance camera that will automatically pick up the image of a threatening individual, but a lighted square around his head, and instantly send it to 911, or CSI Aiken or some other protective agency. The agency will quickly send a SWAT team, with sirens wailing, just in time to prevent mayhem.
Then all citizens can turn in their Glocks and their iPhone 5s. We will all be safe.
But don’t smile yet.Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.