French Court To Rule On Passport Smile Ban

A French court is set to rule on an upcoming case regarding the current “smile ban” on passport photos. The plaintiff, a French citizen referred to as Thierry, filed suit after his passport photo was rejected on account of a slight, Mona Lisa-esque smile.

Thierry is believed to be a 40-year-old senior civil servant for the government, and so far has maintained his anonymity as far as the media is concerned.

In a letter to the French news outlet, AFP, he asks “Is it responsible, in a depressed France, for the authorities to accuse people if they smile?”

France is widely considered one of the least optimistic countries in the world. In fact, according to the Telegraph, “France is regularly polled as the world’s most pessimistic nation – most recently by the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Survey last year.”

Thierry maintains that permitting French citizens to have a slight smile in their passport photos will help change the world’s view of France. He claims as well that it will “give the depressed nation a morale boost.”

After the terrorist attacks of the last year rocking the country, most notably those in Paris and Nice, it is reasonable to assume the French mood could use the help.

A photo of the Eiffel Tower after a terrorist attack.
[Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

The current rules for French passport photos are that the subject must maintain a neutral expression as well as a shut mouth.

The civil servant lost a previous case regarding passport smiles in 2014. The court cited a note from 2010 regarding passport photo criteria when declaring its verdict in that case.

“The subject must look into the camera lens. He must adopt a neutral expression and have his mouth shut. He must notably not smile.”

Thierry’s lawyer, Romain Boulet, claims that the 2014 ruling was invalid as it was based on a note without any actual legal value. He points out that the law itself requires only that the subject looks at the camera, have a natural expression, and a closed mouth. As such, there is no written ban on smiling in a passport photo.

The type of smile in question is a variant of the famous Mona Lisa smile, sometimes called an “undertaker’s smile” where the ends of the subject’s lips are only very slightly raised. The plaintiff’s smile was also described as a “slightly ironic grimace that borders on a discreet smile.”

A photo of DaVinic's "Mona Lisa."
PARIS - AUGUST 24: The famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting " The Mona Lisa" is seen on display in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre museum on August 24, 2005 in Paris, France. Dan Brown is the author of numerous bestsellers, including Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons, and Deception Point. His acclaimed novel "The Da Vinci Code"has become one of the most widely read books of all time. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

The French Interior Ministry claims that Thierry violated the law because a smile does not constitute a neutral expression, regardless of the size of the smile. The spokesperson stated, “he [Thierry] doesn’t have a neutral expression because he’s unquestionably smiling.”

The British and French both share similarities when it comes to restricting facial movements when taking a passport photo. The reason behind the smile ban is believed to be the result of biometric passports, in which the photo of the person, specifically their facial features, can be compared to those within a database. Evidently, the width of a person’s smile can hinder facial recognition software from functioning optimally.

The Paris Court of Appeals will decide the fate of the smile ban.

The peculiarity of French law no doubt baffles many who encounter it. That smiling would even be considered an issue is not something one would expect. Considering that France is the same nation that bans burkhinis but not bikinis, perhaps the issue is less of a surprise than it should be.

So what is your take on the French smile ban? Is it a legitimate precaution for the safety of a nation? Or is it the overreach of a morose government? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

[Featured Image by Gaelfphoto/Shutterstock]