The Damnable Modern Passport

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John
Torpey. The
Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State
.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Right.
The Feds have plans for you. In the future, if they get their way,
you will own a high-tech passport full of promise. It will be compact.
The machine-readable data it contains will be unique and impossible
to forge. The machines charged with reading it will be infallible
and never suffer breakdowns. The old photo-based passport will be
a thing of the past. The new passport will mean progress beyond
your wildest dreams. The country, once vulnerable to malcontents,
innumerable illegals, mafiosi, terrorists, brooding novelists and
other such vermin, will be made safe once and forever and for all
time.

The
means to this end is a high-tech passport equipped with a little
harmless identification chip. This brilliant device will prove once
and for all that you are who you claim to be. It will store digital
photographs, digital finger prints and, to make assurance doubly
sure, digital scans of the human iris. Of course, that innocent
word u2018chip' is somewhat of a misnomer in this context. The damn
thing takes on some of the properties of a computer. When the chip
is caressed by a certain radio wave, all of its digital data is
transmitted to a machine by means of a miniature antenna embedded
in its gossipy innards. You will be waved on your carefree way by
the charmers of the world's customs agencies.

Naysayers,
of course, exist.
They argue that the passport readers now in
existence can only read these new passports somewhere between 30
to 60% of the time. They further object that facial recognition
technology is less than perfect. They believe that the lack of encryption
of the data on these chips permits them to be read by virtually
anyone with an interest in your person and your purse: airlines,
banks, hotels and the always ingenious members of the criminal classes.
"Criminals will have a useful tool for identity theft. Terrorists
will be able to know the nationality of those they attack."

How
did we get into this mess?

Early
humanity, like the birds and beasts of the field, roamed at will
over the land – always given the proviso that humans, like many other
mammals, are a jealous territorial species. This early freedom disappeared
with the raising of walls and creation of early states and ministates.
"Let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river,"
we read for our edification in Nehemiah, II, 7, circa 300
B.C. The Magna Carta of 1215 granted the Englishman his freedom
of movement and departure. What one Law giveth the other Law taketh
away, and a rascally English statute of 1381 limited these same
rights to peers, merchants and soldiers. (18). The Prussian Imperial
Police Ordinance of 1548 imperiously banned beggars and vagrants
as threats to domestic peace, law and order. (18) The implied inevitable
causation, it seems to me, is more forced than real. The panhandler,
also a member of the jealous territorial species, normally prefers
to work alone on his own turf.

The
basic issue is that the state lodges a robust claim on our taxes
in times of peace and yet still more taxes and a rapacious demand
for our bodies in times of war. The history of state busybodies
in pursuit of these two charming aims is long, instructive and makes
for generally painful reading. The French Revolution is a case in
point, and "passports and certificates of residence became
extremely important documents as conscription became a way of life."
(21) It did not begin that way. Early French revolutionaries overflowed
with the love of mankind, and they were full of good intentions.

In
its early generous phases, some revolutions are marked by a sense
of fun and frolic, and its wizards often propose joyful legislation
to improve the lot of sinful man. As one of the first actions of
the Bolsheviki was reportedly the removal of the tax on vodka, so
the early French revolutionaries agitated to ensure the freedom
of domestic and international travel. On September 13, 1791, the
"Marquis de Lafayette proposed – and the Assembly greeted
with sustained applause – the abolition of all controls, especially
including passports, on the movements of the French citizenry, as
well as an end to the order mandating the pursuit and arrest of
migrs that had been imposed" earlier in June of that year.
(29) This was an act of remarkable generosity towards their natural
enemies, the aristocrats, landowners, and the prevailing plutocracy;
but as the ranks of the migrs swelled beyond the Rhine, presumably
minus all their real and most of their personal property, and they
defiantly raised the black flag, and the talk turned to war and
counter-revolution, generosity was replaced by malignity. On November
9, 1791, the same emigrés were said to be guilty of a conspiracy
against France and patrie and as such subject to the death
penalty. (30) Louis XVI, then still with his head on his shoulders,
promptly vetoed the legislation.

The
heated debate continued in the French Assembly. One Thuriot, a man
without a given forename and hence an object of curiosity and even
suspicion as is only right for a man without a given name, was a
partisan of passport controls. His measure soon came up for debate
if debate it can be called: "By now, the Assembly was churning
with controversy, and a proposal to adopt Thuriot's amendment by
acclamation drove the house wild. Pandemonium had erupted in the
chamber in response to his proposal to require those wishing to
leave the Kingdom to carry a passport in which that intention was
inscribed. One legislator insisted on a roll-call vote, calling
the provision u2018blood-thirsty'; another denounced it as u2018destructive
of commerce and industry, and contrary to the interests of the people.'
That steadfast opponent of passport controls, Girardin, returned
to the attack, demanding that the Assembly u2018not be permitted to
destroy commerce and freedom without discussion. . .'" (41)
Yet when it was all said and done, the French were under the passport
yoke once again, and the foreigners within France, diplomatic missions
excepted, were placed under special surveillance and they were suffered
to remain on French soil only if they remained on their good behavior.
The punishment for bad behavior, however defined, was expulsion.
And so it came that the "optimistic cosmopolitanism of the
early days of the revolution [was] obliterated; and the high-flown
ambiguities of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
had been resolved in favor of the nation-state." (55) War breeds
bureaucracies and regulations beyond measure and it is the graveyard
of hard-won liberties.

In
the middle of this endless human drama of liberty versus control
and repression, hope and progress appeared on the continent of Europe
in the improbable form of the North German Confederation and Prussia
the Damned. In the fullness of time, the Germans enjoyed liberal
rights to travel analogous to those of the British. The beginning
of the process was not promising.

During
the Napoleonic wars from 1813–1815 Prussia put the screws on
foreigners and obliged them to get passports and to have them checked
with almost military precision. You wonder how many foreign spies
were frustrated and hamstrung by this requirement, but the rationale
for repression does not normally call for iron-clad proofs and grows
very nicely in a morass of fateful and fearful conjectures. Furthermore
the Prussians, as opposed to the foreigners, were treated with paternalistic
indulgence. Prussians, it was said, were known for their laudable
devotion (rhmliche Anhnglichkeit) to the state of Prussia,
and the new passport regulations "were remarkably lenient towards
the Prussian subjects themselves." (61)

In
the remainder of the nineteenth century a series of events happily
conspired to reduce the proliferation of passports and visas. They
included a state of relative peace on the continent of Europe – only
one Prussian/Austrian war and the Franco-Prussian war – the rise and
development of modern factories, and the construction of railroads.
The wars themselves were mercifully short and therefore did not
manacle mankind seemingly forever. The rise of factories meant a
decisive loosening of the old feudal duties and obligations tied
to the land, and the numerous passengers on railroads put a burden
on the police charged with the examination of travel documents.
The Swiss abolished visa and passport requirements in 1862. The
Swiss police observed, among other things, that the police personnel
"have made but few discoveries" (77) in the course of
the zealous pursuit of the passengers on trains, surely a damning
indictment all by itself.

Remarkable
enough, the Prussian Junkers , those horny-handed sons of
the soil and honorary members of the hunting-shooting fraternity,
were also enlightened delegates to the North German Confederation
Reichstag and joined the bourgeoisie in a new round of legislative
legerdemain designed to reduce the passport nuisance. In the 1860's
the outcry reached a crescendo. "Up and down the country, liberal
industrialists and opinion-makers demanded freedom of entry into
any trade…freedom of movement, and freedom of settlement. Burgeoning
industry needed hands, and these freedoms were essential to ensuring
that it could have them." (78) In the 1867 legislation bearing
on travel, the North German Confederation voted to remove from the
simple act of travel, "the suspicion and police surveillance
that had previously attended it, especially for the lower classes."
(88) Passport restrictions fell by the wayside and very soon "passport
requirements fell away throughout Western Europe, useless paper
barriers to a world in prosperous motion." (92)

In
the United States, passport controls and immigration measures took
a meandering course. Travel within the continental U.S. was, of
course, free and unfettered. The somewhat surprising absence of
the Federal Colossus at this time made itself felt even in the formal
control of movement. Early passports were issued by individual states
and even municipalities. (95) In 1856, Congress asserted an exclusive
right to issue passports by legislative fiat. The American Civil
War period receives only a few passing words, but I suspect that
a close examination of the travel restrictions planned and informally
imposed during the bloody conflict, especially on independent journalists
and other such troubling vagabonds and subversives, would have led
to a mound of amusing, disconcerting, and damning discoveries. The
year 1882 marked a dual achievement for in that year European immigration
into the U.S. simultaneously reached its peak and the United States
passed the Immigration Act of 1882 which rigorously and piously
excluded entry to convicts, lunatics, and idiots as well as the
nefarious poor destined for the welfare rolls. (96, 97) How many
enterprising convicts, lunatics, idiots and paupers attempted to
enter the U.S. is not related.

The
twentieth century was a passport chamber of horrors. In Britain
the passport was resurrected in 1905 to counter "the threat
of a large-scale influx of East European Jews." (112) The Aliens
Restriction Act of 1914 gave the government additional power to
exclude aliens. (112) During World War I, France and Germany both
reinstituted passport and visa controls. Italian legislation was
even more draconian. It actually revoked its stock of existing passports
to prevent the flight of reluctant conscripts. (114) The government
proved finely attuned to the non-serviam mood of its potential
soldiers. In the teeth of its precautions, about 290,000 Italians
faced courts martial in World War I, generally for desertion. (115-116)
The United States enacted restrictive legislation which prevented
Korean and further Chinese and Japanese immigration. And so it was
that the glorious war to end all war – the greater war's misery the
greater the pious cant of silver-tongued scoundrels – put an end to
the laissez-faire era in international travel and labor migration.
Horrors were about to begin.

The
postwar and interwar period was in some respects even worse. Some
1.7 million Russians, Germans, Poles, Rumanians, Balts, Lithuanians
and Letts exiled themselves or were driven out of the Soviet Union
during and after the civil war and the contrived famines of 1919–22.
(124) The Soviets took long-distance revenge and revoked the passports
of the impoverished Russian and other exiles. (124) Later, largely
through the efforts of Frijdtof Nansen, the exiles were given "Nansen
passports" which gave them an official identity but did not
confer citizenship. (127–128)

The
Soviets introduced that monstrous innovation, the internal passport.
Stalin's brutal collectivization policy (1928–1933) starved
the peasants who, motivated by hunger and despair, took part in
a massive population shift from the farms to the towns where, of
course, they were perceived in an even more unfavorable light than
the beggars and vagrants of imperial Prussia. Quite clearly and
hideously, the starved and huddled masses were the outward and visible
signs of a murderous internal political failure. Malcolm Muggeridge
covered himself with glory at the time by reporting what his eyes
told him in the North Caucasus and Ukraine – the misery of
landless peasants suffering from military terrorism, disease, starvation,
and death. Stalin accordingly re-introduced, in 1933, the internal
passport to control the everyday life of the Soviet citizen, an
instrument which became the heart and soul of police power in the
Soviet Union. (130–131)

The
rise of the Nazi dictatorship saw a feverish rise in malign legislation
and the zealous keeping of records. Their first intended victims
in 1933 were Eastern Jews, victims of Polish persecution, who had
entered Germany between 1918 and 1933. Many, for some inexplicable
reason, had not obtained German citizenship. "As a result,
the Nazis were to discover that even they could not revoke the citizenship
of those who were not citizens." (132) Later, in 1935, they
issued a workbook which documented the working life of the bearer.
The data was also entered in a national registry. In 1937 they rescinded
the North German Confederation 1867 law which had abolished the
tedium of passports in times of peace. (134) Residential registration
followed in 1938 and those who had filled out the forms were required
to possess documentation that the requirement had been met. Jews
were identified as Jews by the end of the same year. The noose was
tightening for all.

After
the end of World War II, the existing passport rules and regulations
came under renewed scrutiny. Sardonic observers pointed to the astonishing
and humbling fact that "despite the remarkable technical achievements
of the twentieth century, the journey from Paris to London by rail
and sea could be done in less time at the beginning of the century
than in 1953." (146) Furthermore, was it really true that the
clever criminal classes were held back by passport and visa restrictions?
In a 1951 debate in the Bundestag, the Minister of the Interior
confessed that "All the experts essentially recognize that
the really dangerous people almost always find a way to get in and
out. Passport requirements, and especially visa requirements, thus
result in a heavy burden on the movement of the broad mass of innocent
travelers. An enormous – and largely useless – administrative effort
is expended trying to get a few wrongdoers by issuing millions of
passports and visas to innocent people." (148) The sad truth
may well be that the villains almost always get through. They have
a gift for it, and they take a dour professional pride in thumbing
their noses at the bureaucracy and especially the police.

It
was, as always, practical realities in a time of general European
peace rather than abstract argument which won the day for travel
without the passport nuisance. The Common Market needed the manpower
resources of united Europe. The internal passport fell by the wayside.
It was, as always, a slow and tortuous process. Article 48 of the
1957 European Economic Community treaty proposed to eliminate passport
controls. Decades later, the 1985 Schengen Accords enabled the citizens
of France, Germany and the Benelux countries to travel freely within
Europe. At about the same time, I seem to recall, there was a delightful
innovation. The border crossings and the hideous huts that formerly
housed the poor miserable border guards were left to rot by the
roadside, and even non-Europeans like myself enjoyed travel without
border restrictions. The Germans, always fearful of the terrorist
threat, issued machine-readable passports which they claim cannot
be forged. (153) The British have also issued machine-readable passports
since 1988.

The
outline of our future is reasonably clear. The newly declared War
on Terror (10 years? 50 years?) signifies the retention of portentous
and overt controls, no matter how paltry the discoveries made by
the police. The abominable passport, especially the machine-readable
passport, will be the rule in the twenty-first century. One hundred
countries, including such apparent technological vacuums like Albania,
Jamaica and the Maldives, now issue them. Millions of citizens will
spend billions of dollars to identify themselves to the police in
an intricate process which assumes that they are malcontents, criminals
and terrorists unless they can prove otherwise. There goes the assumption
of innocence. Whether the new passports can be forged or not remains
to be seen. Ominous straws in the wind indicate otherwise. Identity
theft is currently the crime of choice of the criminal classes,
and it is growing faster than any other. Furthermore, 122,269 British
passports were lost or stolen in the year ending March 31, 2001.

In
the United States the merry forging of new laws proceeds at a riotous
pace. Section 414 of law HR3162, also known as the "U.S.A.
Patriot Act of 2001" specifies that "particular focus
should be given to the utilization of biometric technology and the
development of tamper-resistant documents. This entry/exit system
will record the entry and departure of every non-U.S. citizen arriving
in the United States and will notify the INS [Immigration and Naturalization
Service] whether foreign nationals departed the United States under
the terms of their visas. The provision requires that the information
obtained from the entry/exit system be interfaced with intelligence
and law enforcement databases to enable authorities to focus on
apprehending those few who do pose a threat." In order to focus
on those few who do pose a threat, the authorities will need to
know who does not pose a threat, which surely includes all
the rest of us. We were first informed by the appropriately named
Robert O'Harrow, writing
in the Washington Post on February 1, 2002
, that “Federal
aviation authorities and technology companies will soon begin testing
a vast air security screening system designed to instantly pull
together every passenger’s travel history and living arrangements,
plus a wealth of other personal and demographic information.”

How
brilliant, brave, indomitable, resourceful, and lavish with our
money after the fact are our masters. Beware. It is the least you
can do.

March
11, 2005

Paul
Boytinck [send him mail]
is a retired librarian who lives in Lewisburg, PA.

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