A French court has upheld a ban on smiling in pictures taken for passports or identity papers, despite a civil servant asking them to approve grins in official photographs to end a "national depression".
Under a February 2009 decree, passport photographs must conform to the country-specific requirements, which states that a person's look and expression must be "fixed on the lens. The expression should be neutral with the mouth closed".
The unnamed official decided to appeal to the court after his own passport photo was rejected for breaking the stringent rules. He claimed that he was not smiling on the incriminated pictures, but instead had a neutral face with the corners of his mouth turned up.
Arguing that, like the Mona Lisa, people could look happy while keeping their mouth shut and their expression neutral, a lawyer representing the civil servant told the judge: "If they stopped asking the French to be miserable on their IDs, they'd give the morale of the nation a little lift."
To smile or not to smile: Which countries allows photo grins?
Some countries have different requirements for passport photos, but the overall rule is that the quality, style and appearance must meet the standard set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The ICAO recommends neutral expressions because it is used by facial recognition systems – "advanced technology that helps prevent fraud by electronically verifying identity based on each person's unique facial features".
The UK authorities, meanwhile, states that individuals must have "a neutral expression" – described as one "that is without smiling or frowning (defined as any expression that affects the contours of the face)" – with a mouth closed. "If the mouth is open, facial features are distorted and an accurate representation of the applicant is not captured," the UK government website outlines.
This is similar to Canada's "neutral facial expression (eyes open and clearly visible, mouth closed, no smiling") requirements.
However, the more lenient US State Department websit, states that it allows passport pictures "taken with a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open".