A document, usually a little booklet, that indicates your nationality and your vitals (name, birthday, etc.), and can get you through the customs officers in ports. In addition to a plethora of official stamps, a well-travelled person's passport usually has a good collection of visas and stapled-on temporary visas.

Passports are cool because they are like a record of all your travels. I had an Australian one stamped full of red, inside out. They are also of high-quality construction, laminated cover, and each page has its own watermark to prevent counterfeiting. The photo is usually dorky, but that is of no importance, because the most important thing about an old passport is how many stamps it has. Then again, maybe it's just me, because I travel too much.

I think I have four working passports right now. I usually use my Canadian one, but around Asia I use my Australian one. To get in the US, I use my permanent residency card, because it skips a lot of hassle (American customs officers are famously xenophobic). I also have a Hong Kong/British one that works well in Europe. The Chinese one is used around China, but nowhere else. Once, in the US, I pulled this one out instead of my residency card, and they submitted me to a full luggage search. I hate it when that happens.

The more the merrier. Collect them all!

Microsoft's Passport technology is an attempt to unify and augment the security of a user's identification to web sites. The basic idea behind Passport is that Microsoft has whatever information users choose to provide stored on a server, which it shares with sites that use Passport. Microsoft has also implemented a Passport "wallet" to aid in buying products online.

Typical information, such as the user's name, address, and birthdate, can be entered into the Passport. When users sign in to Passport, their password is sent to Microsoft's server via an SSL connection, and their sign-in information is stored on a temporary cookie on their computer. Thus, whenever they enter a site that supports Passport, a user's information is entered automatically, like showing a passport when traveling from country to country. This feature is called "single sign-in service."

The temporary cookie also stores a list of which sites Passport signed the users in on, so Passport can automatically log out of these when the users sign out of Passport. The cookie is encrypted, to discourage malevolent computer users from getting access to important information. Also, after the secure transmission of information occurs and users are logged in to the site, the site refers to their identity through a number generated by a key which changes every so often. This makes it difficult for anyone to falsify their identity using Passport.

The Passport wallet is different, and is treated with a higher level of security. The wallet stores information about a user's credit cards and billing and shipping addresses. Information from the wallet is never stored on the user's computer as a cookie. When they make a purchase on a site using Passport, the user's credit card information goes from the Passport server at Microsoft to the site over an encrypted connection. When the user selects a credit card stored in their Passport wallet, only the first six numbers are displayed, a security feature like those used on ATM receipts.

There are two other functions provided by Microsoft Passport. There is the Kids' Passport, which allows parents to monitor and control their children's online privacy. Also, Passport users can create a public profile that they can share with other users onlin].

From Microsoft's official Passport web site, http://www.passport.com, here is a list of sites using Microsoft Passport as of August 8, 2001:

And a list of online merchants using the Passport wallet:

  • 1-800-Flowers.com
  • 800.com
  • alle' Fine Jewelry
  • altrec.com
  • Anna Cris
  • ArtSelect.com
  • Ashford.com
  • AtYourOffice.com
  • Blue Nile
  • Bombay
  • BroadwayBasketeers.com
  • buy.com
  • CDW
  • Costco Online
  • Crutchfield Electronics
  • DecorLine.com
  • Djangos
  • eBags.com
  • EBWorld.com
  • EMPORI.com
  • ePCdirect.com
  • ePhones
  • Expedia.com
  • Flowerbud.com
  • Forzieri.com (Europe and Japan)
  • Forzieri.com
  • Fossil.com
  • Gadget Universe
  • GiftCollector.com
  • Godiva
  • Gold and Diamond
  • Hilton.com
  • J White Computers, Inc.
  • Larose.com
  • LEF.org
  • Libronauta.com
  • Lodging.com
  • Logibyte.de
  • Mcafee.com
  • Mondera.com
  • MPSuperstore
  • MSN eShop
  • My Shopping Club
  • Office Depot
  • OfficeMax.com
  • Oshman's
  • OurHouse.com
  • Pacsun.com
  • PapaNicholas.com
  • Photoalley.com
  • RadioShack.com
  • Shopsports.com
  • Simply Sapphires
  • SmarterKids.com
  • The Sports Authority
  • TooHome.com
  • Victoria's Secret
  • VirtualSoftware.com
  • WorldofShopping.com

Passports are now considered an essential part of international arrangements, functioning as travel documents, proofs of citizenship and rudimentary universal identity cards.

The idea of a document of safe passage granted by a sovereign is ancient. There are some suggestions that in ancient Egypt, citizens carried the name of the Pharaoh with them abroad, possibly as a warning to foreigners that they were members of the regional power.

There is a biblical reference to something like a passport being granted to Nehemiah by King Artaxerxes:

Nehemiah 2:7,9

... I said to the king "If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah... Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters.

It seems that occasional passports have always been issued on an ad hoc basis by monarchs to travelling subjects. However these are unlike modern passports, and perhaps more like ambassadors' credentials.

In 1415, King Henry V granted Safe Conducts in an Act of Parliament to English travellers, asking for protection for bearers, and threatening anyone who messes with them. These were granted to foreigners as well as Englishmen. Similar arrangements were made by other countries of the time.

The first passports as we know them today were, unsurprisingly, French (the word passport is derived from Fr. passe port, a port pass). King Louis XIV, in has determination to be an absolute ruler, made it illegal in 1672 for people to leave or enter France without his personal agreement. Other countries in Europe reacted reciprocally, so that within a century almost every country in Europe had a passport of some kind. This grew up hand-in-hand with a system of a host country requiring visas for travellers coming in.

For a passport to be useful it had to contain some details about the bearer to prevent theft and forgery. This meant that passports were immediately able to serve other functions than simply travel. The Russian empire from 1719 used them internally for taxation and military service. They effectively became internal passports, and were sometimes needed to travel between cities.

Just as France led the trend for passports, it was also the first European country to abolish them, in 1861. They were seen as an unnecessary impediment to free travel in the more peaceful Europe of the late 19th century. Most of mainland Europe abolished passports so that by the beginning of WWI, there were few tight border controls.

With the advent of photography as a cheap way of determining identity, passports began having photographs attached to them in the early 20th century. This become more important during the First World War, when countries began reintroducing passport systems (some places, like the UK, never abolished them in the first place). By then, passports had all the essential functions that they do today; they were useful for knowing which of the refugees created by the war were genuinely citizens of the country they were trying to enter.

Most passports were printed on folded paper until 1920, when the League of Nations held an "International Conference on Passports" in 1920. They established general guidelines for standardising passports, which recommended that they be in booklet-form, with a photo and some form of security. This enabled visa stamps and other details to be put directly on the passport. The photograph and personal information (such as date of birth, nationality, place of birth, passport number.

Nowdays, every country (AFAIK) issues passports and requires them -- to some degree -- for entry. Some borders that used to require passports no longer do; you can travel throughout the Western Hemisphere (except Cuba) on a driver's licence or other less-secure identity documents, and a similar arrangement operates inside the Schengen Countries of the European Union. However, liberalising and tightening of borders seems to be a periodical thing, changing every fifty years or so. The US-Canadian border, like Europe, is a good example of this.

We are due a phase of border-tightening, and this one will be largely in response to fears about international terrorism (for the USA) and asylum seekers (for Europe). There is already talk about more controls on the Western Hemisphere passport exemption.

One thing that has tightened significantly is recent years is passport security. As a holder of a passport can usually use it obtain all other forms of identification, passport theft and forgery are more serious now than in the past. To combat this, modern passports tend to have printed and laminated photos, holograms, watermarks, machine-readable data and other difficult-to-falsify features.

Obtaining a passport is also more regulated in most countries. In Europe, the USA and other 'developed' countries, passports are cross-checked against births, and applications (and photos) need either cast-iron documentation or an identifying witness. In the USA, passports must be applied for in person. Passports also expire and need renewal after a certain period of time; in the UK, this is normally 10 years. In the past, family passports were common, as was having young children named on the passport of a parent. Passport authorities are dispensing with these rules and beginning to require one passport per person, even children. This is in part to combat abduction of children by a parent during custody battles.


Pass"port (), n. [F. passeport, orig., a permission to leave a port or to sail into it; passer to pass + port a port, harbor. See Pass, and Port a harbor.]


Permission to pass; a document given by the competent officer of a state, permitting the person therein named to pass or travel from place to place, without molestation, by land or by water.

Caution in granting passports to Ireland. Clarendon.


A document carried by neutral merchant vessels in time of war, to certify their nationality and protect them from belligerents; a sea letter.


A license granted in time of war for the removal of persons and effects from a hostile country; a safe-conduct.



Figuratively: Anything which secures advancement and general acceptance.

Sir P. Sidney.

His passport is his innocence and grace. Dryden.


© Webster 1913.

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