Monday, August 26, 2013

The Uses of Snowden: Passports are Given and Passports are Taken Away

[revised 8/27/2013]

One commonly held theory is that Snowden is useful for stimulating dialog and discussion in America on a variety of topics, and that this process of discussion is valuable independent of whether or not Snowden is actually the traitor that he wants to be or is merely guilty of narcissistic self-delusion.

For a quick review of Narcissistic Personality Disorder see here:

But whether actual traitor or merely a self-proclaimed martyr, his public travel dysfunction has stirred up at least three notable topics, none of them particularly to do with national security or surveillance. The topics are

1. What is a Passport and when can it be revoked ?
2. How does the rest of the world see our death penalty and use of torture ?
3. What is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what does it mean?

We will take this one piece at a time. First, the Passport.

1. The Passport

When Snowden's passport was revoked, righteous indignation spewed from the usual sources accusing the US Government of doing something illegal or immoral. So what is a passport and do you have a right to one? A passport is three things, two of them formal and one of them implied.   It is first identity paperwork and second a request that courtesy be shown the holder of the passport when travelling in another country.    By convention and by treaty it has accrued a third meaning, which is the de facto right to travel internationally at all.  The passport has a long history but as we know it in its modern incarnation it came into existence during WWI in order to control the passage of people of various nationalities across borders in Europe.  This specific need for border control evolved into the right to travel internationally in general.  No passport or diplomatic papers of some sort meant no international travel, for the most part.

The most famous fictional "letter of transit" for Victor Laszlo travelling through Casablanca

As it is currently conceived of, a passport is issued by a country's foreign service, in this case our Department of State, at their discretion and it may be revoked at their discretion. In our country, failure to pay child support is cause to revoke someone's passport, even if that passport is required for them to make a living, or to exercise any of their other interests or rights to travel. It can be pulled without recourse to law and is so pulled every day of the week in this country. So why shouldn't they pull the passport of someone who claims to be violating American law and releasing classified information ?

Furthermore, not having a passport is not a barrier to travel if another country wishes you to visit them.  Those countries can issue one of several types of diplomatic documents (usually temporary) that will enable someone without a passport to travel to them. They do it all the time, when they want to. In the case of Snowden, I guess they didn't want to.  (Of course a little pressure on them by our Government might have been applied behind the scenes, do you suppose?)

If Americans wish to change the process by which a passport can be revoked and the rules involving who can have a passport and what their rights are, I am all for it. But that would be a major change and would probably require the cooperation of congress and the courts.

But maybe a better question is why a "government" is necessary to have a passport at all?   How many people who are alive today chose the government they live under?   Is it perhaps 1% of the people?   I certainly did not choose this oppressive government that protects the rich and humiliates the poor. Why should governments have such control over international travel at all beyond what they permit at their own borders?

Recall, a passport is identity and a request for courtesy, combined with an implied third meaning: which is the right to travel internationally.   Why not have another, presumably international, body, certify the identity of a person and negotiate by treaty (1) the right to travel?  Maybe the UN could do this and actually be good for something beyond getting their diplomats immunity from traffic tickets in NYC. 

In parts II and III we will go over how the world sees our death penalty and how that affects the Snowden matter and then review the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Snowden has accused the US of being in violation of. He is right, by the way, we are. They all are. All countries are.

Just wait until you read this thing.


1. So far as I know treaties are made by sovereign countries and their descendants (e.g. when Soviet Russia picked up the treaties of Imperial Russia).   So is the UN allowed to make treaties of this type? What is funny about this question is that I do not have a clue what the answer is, but I suspect the answer is "its complicated".

No comments:

Post a Comment