Thursday 3 August 2006


The birth of Noah, my new nephew, was registered yesterday.

Now, British readers will be aware of the recent kerfuffle over baby passports. It used to be that babies and small children could travel on their parents' passports. A few years ago, the powers that be decided that everyone, small babies included, should have their own passports. Now this is ridiculous, because the passport lasts five years, and babies all look more like each other than they look like their five-year-old future selves. Want to kidnap a toddler and get them out of the country? Well, all you'll need is a baby's passport. Any one will do. As long as the baby's the same colour as the toddler, it should be good enough to get you past any border control. If we must have passports for babies, the photos should be renewed every year until they're four, I reckon.

And the Government insisted that, since they want to scan all these photos into their failure-prone facial recognition software, the babies would have to obey the same rules as the rest of us when having their photos taken: no smiling, no frowning, eyes open, mouth closed, face pointed dead straight at the camera, etc. Ever tried that with a baby? The Passport Office were zealously rejecting any photos that didn't meet the criteria, but this generated such massive annoyance that they have actually backed down under public pressure.

Now, a birth certificate tends to be all you need to get hold of a passport. So, with all this increased security around passports for kids, you can imagine the hassle involved in getting a birth certificate. Well, you'd be imagining wrong, because all you need to register a birth, it turns out, is a valid and verifiable baby. My sister-in-law needed no ID, no evidence that she had recently been pregnant, nothing. She could have got any of her friends to take Noah up to the town hall and register him for her.

The new baby passports may be a pain in the arse, but they are actually there for a good reason: to make it more difficult to take stolen children out of the country. If you steal a baby, you can't get it across the border without its passport. But you can take it to your nearest town hall, register it as yours, then use the new birth certificate to get a new passport, without at any point having to offer a scintilla of evidence that it's yours.

Apparently, the new ID cards and their attendant database are going to make us all much safer.

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