arl Hans Lody wasn’t always a spy. A former member of the German navy, Lody married and divorced a wealthy American while World War I was brewing in Europe. Leaving the shambles of his marriage in disgrace, Lody returned to Germany in 1914 and volunteered to be a London spy. While working in the UK, Lody gathered information on the British Navy while pretending to be an American tourist—an identity he secured with the help of a stolen passport.
Operating under the name Charles Inglis, Lody collected information about the operations of the Royal British Navy, even contributing to the German take-down of the Lusitania. He was eventually caught and executed in front of the Tower of London. His execution became the reason photos were required on U.S. passports. Following his death, U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan commented that the whole Lody incident could have been prevented if only passports came with a photo.
In many ways, U.S. passport policy has always adapted to global change. A new history exhibit at the United States Bureau of Consular affairs at the U.S. Department of State, “From Pirates to Passports: A Timeless Commitment to Service,” explores this concept, illustrating the ways in which consular policies have changed to meet a society with evolving technological innovations and social norms. Ultimately, the changes in passport policy signal the ability states have to shape their security measures for a changing world.
The original passports were a far cry from the identity documents known and recognized around the world today. In fact, originally, passports were not used as identity documents at all. The first passports were actually just letters from leaders in one country requesting protection for their citizens traveling abroad. Further, the original passports weren’t always for individual use—sometimes letters were written to request protection for an entire ship of people.
A new history exhibit at the United States Bureau of Consular affairs at the U.S. Department of State, “From Pirates to Passports: A Timeless Commitment to Service,” explores this concept, illustrating the ways in which consular policies have changed to meet a society with evolving technological innovations and social norms.
Passports resembling the identity documents used today were first issued by the UK in 1914. That same year, the outbreak of WWI prompted the United States to issue passports for the many Americans who had been traveling abroad in Europe.
Just as passport photos began to be required after an American passport was stolen for German espionage, other changes in passport policy have been made to accommodate national security measures. During WWII, the color of the U.S. passport booklet changed from red to green in order to help security officials remove fraudulent passports from circulation. And in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. implemented many heightened security measures to protect itself from future terrorist incidents, including a law that prevented anyone from crossing the U.S. border without a passport.
As passport policy has changed to accommodate national security efforts, consular regulations have also slowly adjusted to modern social norms. American women wishing to travel alone initially had to specifically request individual passports; marital status wasn’t dropped from the U.S. passport until 1937. And in 2010, passports received another landmark change when the U.S. simplified the process for changing your sex on your passport.
However, though current passport policy reflects many current social norms, it still has a long way to go. Just as passport policy has adapted to progressive changes in the times, it has also reflected darker moments in U.S. history. After all, more stringent passport policy was prompted by the widespread xenophobia associated with laws like The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. And after an infamous high court decision ruled that slaves were not citizens in 1857, African Americans were not allowed to carry passports.
Just a few days ago, the State Department made a timely change to another facet of consular policy, announcing that they will be requiring visa applicants to submit five years of social media history. Proponents of the new policy argue that the new social media history requirement on U.S. visa applications is simply a way of moving national security measures with the times in order to better protect American citizens. Some legal experts, however, argue that the new visa requirements threaten speech rights of potential citizens. Regardless, the State Department’s inclusion of social media in its citizenship screening process is evidence that its policies are constantly changing to try to meet modern needs. Clearly, whichever direction the winds of change blow, passport policy adapts to meet new global needs.