Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A History of the Passport

220px-UK_passport_1924.jpgIt’s been a long old month, what with student marking, teaching at a new college, and several new projects, going away for a few days to Oslo to watch the Bisslett games was a nice time out, but as always I could not leave the net alone, fortunately Oslo has a lot of free wifi access points in cafes and hotels, ours was particularly good. The trip was via two flights through Amsterdam, it’s been awhile since I used this airport, it’s grown and not just in size, the people volumes were huge, travelling on a Saturday was the main point not to make, it was bad enough mid week, but a weekend.

It was our passage through the passport control that prompted me to make this blog, for the first time, I realised just what the Brexit means, the very long lines of non EU people. Even though we still use the EU line and that was long enough, the guards asked for our destination and reason for travel, not had that in a long time.

So sitting on the plane I thought I might pull together a short history of the passport, and it’s clear the original intention was not to control movement, but request safe passage through foreign lands.

So the hunt is on for information, I still have my old passports, the old blue, together with a temporary passport. My parents have much the same as we all started travelling much the same time.

The passport is one of the most widespread documents in worldwide use and yet, paradoxically, it has no basis in law: one state cannot demand another to do something - give access - simply by issuing a document. Yet, by insisting on the requirement of holding a passport the state has provided itself with a neat self-financing, data collection and surveillance system.

From earliest times to the present day. When the Roman Empire was spread across Europe, those wishing to travel could only do so with the authority of the king or emperor. The passport's power to facilitate passage was, then, embodied in it from the beginning. But the passport is also connected with territorial and population control by the State. Today, the machine readable passport enables swift checks against lists of names, enabling customs control to sift out undesirables, and the question of identity cards (used throughout continental Europe), is again an issue in British politics, and probably the main issue in Brexit.

But not all has been rosy, with the passport system, the use of false passports has been rife throughout history,  WW2 has a lot of individual and community use of false documents, from the Jews escaping Nazi Germany, to the prisoners of war escaping, the great escape being a famous episode, although it did not end well for the men involved, and as for the Jews, there are several forgers who for all the right reasons made documents and passports, the short film link below is based on an old man living in Paris during the war, who I think is still alive, he tells a complicated tail, a New York Times post, its a real story of this subject, the title tells all :

‘If I Sleep for an Hour, 30 People Will Die’

The mechanism of the passport system, including the secrets of the machine-readable passport, are of particular interest, it fits well with my pursuit of data and its use within Architecture, it’s not that different.

And there are the special diplomatic passports, what does diplomatic immunity really mean and what status do the embassies really have, I plan to look into this in the coming weeks.

Then finally the Royals, do they have passports

Before you ask, today’s photo is not of any passport I have owned, I just found the picture on the net.

So the link I have posted below, is my slide set, when it's finished, I'll post it on slideshare, a service I think I might populate with some of my slides, It's obviously a work in progress, and will get updates as I find new material, but until then, enjoy.

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