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2:12pm on Wednesday, 20th December, 2006:

Veiled Threat


So, a man wanted for murder apparently fled the country disguised as a veiled woman (specifically, his sister). Gosh, how inventive! This must be the first time ever that anyone has tried such a ruse. After all, if it were obvious then the people who look at your passport when you've gone through the metal detector would check you were the gender it said on the passport...

Full passport checks on people leaving the country haven't been done for several years. The Conservative government relaxed them in 1992 for flights to Europe, and the Labour government removed them entirely in 1998. As a result, only random checks are made by immigration officers (or maybe that should be emigration officers?). Responsibility lies with the airlines to ensure that the person who checks in is the same as the person on the passport.

That's not a lot of help, though, is it? Firstly, these days you don't need to stand in line forever to check in — you can use the machines and do it automatically if you want. Secondly, if this Mustaf Jamma guy had his sister's passport, there's a fair chance he had his sister, too. She could have checked in, raised her veil to prove who she was, then handed him the documents afterwards. There's an obvious hole there.

The government wants all checks to be electronic. That's not going to help, though, is it? The passport was valid, it was the bearer who wasn't. This is a fundamental flaw in all such schemes: there's no point trusting the documents unless you can verify that the person using them is the person to whom they refer, and if your only way of verification is that they're holding the documents, you're stuffed. This is one of the many reasons I dislike identity cards.

What I want to know is how he managed to get through airport security when he landed in Somalia having spent the whole flight in full disguise. Don't the immigration officials there check that veiled women really are women, either? Or did he take his own passport, change in the toilets on the plane, and hope the person sitting next to him didn't notice?

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).