Looking Too Generic Can Cost You Your Driver's License

Do people always tell you that you look "just like" someone else they know? Do you live and drive in Massachusetts? If yes and yes, then you might be in danger of losing your driving privileges, just like John H. Gass did.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles sent Gass a letter informing him that they had revoked his driver's license. Given that he "hadn't had a traffic ticket in years," Gass had no idea why they would do such a thing. Why would they do such a thing? Take it (but not our license!) away, Boston Globe:

After frantic calls and a hearing with Registry officials, Gass learned the problem: An antiterrorism computerized facial recognition system that scans a database of millions of state driver's license images had picked his as a possible fraud.

It turned out Gass was flagged because he looks like another driver, not because his image was being used to create a fake identity. His driving privileges were returned but, he alleges in a lawsuit, only after 10 days of bureaucratic wrangling to prove he is who he says he is.

Officials say that last year Massachusetts' facial recognition system picked on at least 1,000 other drivers, "[a]nd some of those people are guilty of nothing more than looking like someone else." Most of them didn't have to wait as long as Gass did to resolve their license issues, "but each must visit the Registry with proof of their identity." Surely visiting the Registry is a fun experience, though! Lots of time to sit and think about where one's life is heading.

"At least 34 states" now use these facial recognition systems, the Globe reports. So you don't have to live in Massachusetts to get the full "mistaken revocation" experience. Have you thought about plastic surgery lately?

We'd really like to think that the folks in charge of operating these systems are geeky middle-aged guys who sit at dusty, ancient computers all day, pulling up photo files one after another on their screens and saying things like, "Hmm, well, this guy looks a lot like Osama bin Laden—yes, I know he's blond and only 20, but he just does. REVOKE! This guy's okay. This guy's okay. Yep, she's okay, and she's okay. Ooooh, she's attractive—definitely okay. Hmm, this guy looks like my cousin Bobby, who should have his license taken away from him because he sucks—REVOKE! Huh, that woman looks like Doris Day! 'Doris Day, she's okay'..." and so on. In reality, however, it's more automatized and sophisticated than that.

[Boston Globe, Image via the Globe]