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The illiberal nature of passports

All too frequent hour-long queues at passport control

In these days of global trade and supposed free movement of people, it’s amazing that we still have – and continue to put up with – the ridiculous ritual of passport control. The obsolete technology, the humorless border police, the queues, the ban on use of mobile phones or cameras in the hall (why?!) – all these contribute to making sure that your very first impression of the country you’ve just entered is a bad one.

I was therefore first surprised, and then increasingly annoyed, by finding out from an article entitled “Passport to the Total State” that passports are a relatively recent invention, were until even more recently a voluntary document, and were originally developed to help those who carried them:

A passport is where the security theater begins. Indeed, without a passport those who wish to fly or cross a border are not “allowed” to be scanned, searched, interrogated, or undergo a plethora of other indignities imposed by uniformed thugs. The hoops through which passport carriers jump are all prelude to “permitting” them to exercise a right belonging to every freeborn person: the right to travel.

America and the world were not always this way. It is important to remember that there once was a world in which people traveled freely across borders without paperwork to visit families, pursue education, conduct business, and mingle. Freedom worked once. It enriched the world economically, culturally, and psychologically.

The passport has grown into what is arguably the single most powerful tool of totalitarian America, second only to law enforcement itself. It no longer pretends to protect individuals; not a single terrorist has been apprehended as a result of passport checks. But it does cement the totalitarian state. The mandatory passport should be reviled and rejected as an abuse of human rights and common decency. A nation that requires one cannot be free.

The passport is yet another part of our everyday lives that, along with Big Government, tax, inflation, war and a host of other things, we accept as completely normal.

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Yet more airport security hassle

>An article posted by Andrew Gilligan on the Telegraph website today caught my eye: in essence, he has articulated something which I am sure many people silently repeat to themselves over and over while standing in a never-ending queue at airport security, which is a variation of “is this hassle really worth it” (a question posed in increasingly colourful language depending on the length of the queue). Well, apparently not – a key passage follows (emphasis mine):

“In my documentary, Philip Baum, the editor of the magazine Aviation Security International, said he could not recall a single time when a bomb had been found using an airport X-ray machine alone. Airport security, he said, was “theatre”, designed to reassure the public rather than to stop bombers. The Abdulmutallab case would seem to support this view.
Many airport X-ray machines cannot, in fact, detect most types of explosives: Baum ran a recent trial for a European government where a woman passed successfully through 24 different airports with the complete components of a bomb concealed on her body.”

Gilligan goes on to make the point that airport security starts well before anyone presents themselves at the scanner; quite clearly, it was a failure of intelligence and information sharing by the security services that was to blame for the recent attempted bombing of a flight to Detriot. Having lost count of the number of times I have seen the people supposed to be studying the scanner monitor for suspect items either simply not looking or even chatting with colleagues, even the basics need revisiting!

Of course, this hasn’t stopped the authorities from using this as an excuse to beef up security even further, as if flying wasn’t unpleasant an experience enough already. Some of the more draconian steps being introduced for flights to the US include:

  • Customers to remain seated during final hour of flight
  • No access to hand luggage and a ban on leaving possessions or blankets on laps during this hour

Try to remember not to drink anything for the final two hours of your next flight or you may find your trip quite uncomfortable…

UPDATE: Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that the new all-body scanners that will now be rushed into our airports at massive expense do not detect a number of different materials, such as those used by the would-be Detroit bomber:

“Officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.

Categories: big state, travel