Stuff You Should Know About
Passports, as we know them,
are a relatively new innovation. The world managed very well without them for
thousands of years. And the movement of people around the world contributed
enormously to the growth and development of communities, cities and countries.
Marco Polo, Captain Cook, Christopher Columbus and Hannibal all managed quite
well without them.
When passports did exist in previous civilisations
they were there for an entirely different purpose. The Chinese almost certainly
had passports of some kind. But these weren't designed to restrict the holder in
any way. On the contrary, they were medallions or certificates given to a
courier as evidence of his bona fides. If an Emperor wanted to send a message he
would give his emissary papers or a special medal to show to people who might
try to stop him. The document was designed to make sure that people would let
Modern passports, designed as a means of controlling the
movement of citizens, were, I'm afraid, originally conceived by the British. In
particular, the aim was to stop lots of people from Africa, India and other
outposts of the British Empire coming to England. But, conscious of the origin
of the passport and anxious not to upset its own citizens, the British
Government used to print a stern notice on the inside front page of its
passports demanding that the holder of the passport be given free passage. It
was a strongly worded announcement implying that if anything happened to the
holder of the passport then the person responsible would find himself on the
wrong end of a British warship. In this way the passport could be used to
protect bona fide citizens and to stop outsiders entering the country without
How things have changed.
Today the passport isn't
issued to protect a citizen or a country's borders. Possession of a passport is
no longer a right and the holder cannot brandish it with pride. Today, passports
are issued to control the movement of citizens. And, as if passports aren't
enough, we now have visas. Hundreds of thousands of people are hired to do
nothing but issue passports and visas and to check them. Every year millions of
people waste hours and days of their lives queuing up to show their passports,
not with pride but with a dull knowledge that the passport is no longer a right
or even a privilege but is nothing more than an identity card.
perhaps time to ask ourselves (as citizens) whether we need passports any more.
Your passport doesn't even offer protection these days and (as thousands of
travellers can confirm) no government will do anything to help you if you get
into trouble while you are abroad. The politicians you helped elect to look
after your interests are too busy pursuing agendas of their own to risk
upsetting local politicians by trying to defend you. And the embassy staff who
are well-paid to protect the interests of the British people are far too busy
choosing the wine which the taxpayer will provide for their next Embassy party
to spend time sorting out the problems of travellers who have been foolish
enough to get themselves into trouble.
Passports don't protect the
country against immigration. If people want to move into a country they will do
so illegally if they can't get in legally. Britain is an island and has well
protected ports and airports and yet even the authorities admit that hundreds of
thousands of people seem to manage to get into the country quite successfully.
Passports don't protect the country from terrorists who want to do it
harm. There is a whole industry out there busy making and selling false
passports (or stealing and revising existing ones). Terrorists who wish to do a
country harm will never ever have any difficulty obtaining whatever pieces of
paper they might need to get into it.
Passports never stop people who
shouldn't be travelling from travelling - and getting into any country they want
to get into. Passports merely irritate people, waste time, waste resources and
give power to uniformed guards who abuse it.
Although passports are
today regarded as the ultimate in identity documents (the father and mother of
the identity card), forged copies are becoming ever easier to purchase. In March
2004 it was reported that the going rate for a counterfeit European passport had
fallen to £600 (from a previous high of £7,000) and were flooding Britain from
factories in Eastern Europe where they were being made to order.
Biometric passports (being brought in by the European Union to please
the Americans) will not make any difference to the way terrorists and criminals
Government ministers talk about biometric identification as
they though they've just cracked the atom and discovered the meaning of life.
Biometric identifiers are, of course, as old as people. When you see a friend
approaching along the street you use biometric identifiers to help you identify
them. Eyes, nose, hair, shape of mouth - all the facial characteristics we use
to recognise one another are biometric identifiers. When a relative rings you up
you know who is on the other end of the telephone because you recognise their
voice. That's another biometric identifier. In the olden days you would have
gone into a bank and the teller would have given you cash out of your account
because he would have recognised you. Even if you'd had a hair cut and worn new
lipstick the teller would have still known it was you. These days the chances
are that no one in your bank knows you by name. No one can identify you because
all the `personal service' has gone out of banking.
When they are
talking about biometric indicators Government ministers are talking about
fingerprints and pictures taken by optical scanners. And the half-baked
government ministers who boast about the efficacy of these techniques will
usually claim that they are fool-proof and will protect you against identity
Only the really, really hysterically stupid ones (the David
Blunketts, Jack Straws and Charles Clarkes of the political world) actually
believe this. The intelligent ones (er, well there is probably one somewhere but
I just can't think of an example) know that machines that measure biometric
indicators can be fooled just as easily and as efficiently as any other machine.
Fingerprint scanners rely on tiny amounts of natural grease in your skin
forming an image of your fingerprint. Just breathing on some fingerprint
scanners will fool them. Alternatively (as anyone who watched a movie made in
the last two decades will know) it is possible to have plastic skin made which
will give you someone else's finger print. Making a prosthetic finger which
contains someone else's fingerprint is remarkably easy to do. (I'm not going to
explain it here because I don't want you to be arrested for being in possession
of dangerous material. But, believe me, it's easy to do. Just key a selection of
words from `biometric', `fingerprint' and `fool' into a search engine when
you're next online with nothing much to do.) And, of course, if you have
fingerprints which you find embarrassing, you can burn them off with acid.
Facial recognition systems and iris scanners are also pretty easy to
fool. They are much easier than fooling a bank teller who has known you for
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2011
How To Protect And Preserve Your Freedom, Identity And Privacy by Vernon