Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

National Security Outweighs Travel Rights: The Confiscation of Passports as a Necessary Response to Increased Terrorist Threats in the U.K.

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Natalie Krajinovic

The recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq have had a substantial impact on the domestic policy of foreign nations. It was recently announced that the U.K. has raised its terror level threat to “substantial” following these conflicts.[1]  Specifically, British Prime Minister David Cameron has voiced his intent to enforce new legislation that would make it easier for U.K. authorities to confiscate passports from individuals who are travelling abroad to fight in the conflicts.[2] These temporary powers granted to officials would involve powers to seize the passports of British nationals fighting in the Middle East who are attempting to return to the U.K. to conduct terrorist operations.[3]

Under the Royal Prerogative, U.K. authorities already have the power to confiscate an individual’s passport if it is in the public interest to stop that individual from travelling.[4] Passport confiscations have occurred twenty three (23) times since April 2013 in order to prevent individuals from travelling abroad for alleged terrorist-related or criminal activity.[5] These new measures, however, are aimed specifically at eliminating terrorist threats stemming from extremist groups, such as ISIS. In particular, news of the British national, who is suspected as the member of ISIS responsible for the brutal killings of American journalists, has undoubtedly raised concerns for the U.K. in heightening security standards.[6]

The confiscation of passports, whether indefinite or temporary, has serious implications not only for the individual from whom the passport is confiscated, but also for the global community as a whole. By allowing officials to confiscate passports from individuals suspected of terrorist acts, the U.K. government is sending a clear message that public security outweighs the free movement of individuals. An individual’s ability to exit and re-enter a given country is a deeply respected aspect of belonging to a nationality. To overly control an individual’s ability to travel to foreign nations encroaches upon jurisdictional concerns, particularly when an individual holds dual citizenship.

POLITICS Passport 1

 

It is imperative that the screening process to determine whether an individual has substantial links to an extremist group and poses a terrorist threat be well-developed. There exists the risk that passports may be confiscated without properly substantiating the individual’s terrorist threat. There must be a line drawn between substantiated confiscations for public protection and premature preventative confiscations based on unfounded predictions. Prime Minister Cameron has stated that confiscating passports of suspected terrorists would not apply to British nationals who hold one passport since the confiscation of their passport would render the individual stateless.[7] Therefore this initiative would only apply to British nationals who hold two passports.[8] By limiting passport confiscation to individuals with dual nationality, it appears as though the U.K. government is targeting individuals with close, direct ties to areas suspected of terrorist activity.

These recent developments ultimately demonstrate that possessing a passport requires that individuals respect the value and implications of national citizenship. As a member of the European Union, the U.K. has a distinct awareness of foreign regulation for the prevention of terrorist activity. For example, the European Union’s counter-terrorism strategy specifically aims to “pursue and investigate terrorists, impede planning, travel and communications, [and] cut off access to funding and materials and bring terrorists to justice.”[9] The curtailing of terrorist and criminal acts are extremely valid reasons for the confiscation of passports by U.K. authorities. Such measures are imperative for the control of domestic terrorist acts and for the prevention of the movement of individuals to foreign states for the purpose of terrorist and illegal activity on a global level.

The current crises in Syria and Iraq, and increased threat of terrorist activity resulting from these conflicts, also have serious implications for the United States. While the U.S. has not increased their threat level, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has recently stated that American and British officials have been in contact in order to evaluate terrorist threats posed by Western-born foreign fighters in Syria returning home.[10]

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The close monitoring of these threats and any increase in danger will likely result in the U.S. making comparable policy and legal determinations as the U.K. The crux of the current U.K. legislation is aimed at U.K passport confiscation based upon preventing individuals who are attempting to return to the U.K. after having traveled from engaging in terrorist regimes. Under current U.S. law, “a person’s naturalization can be revoked either by civil proceeding or pursuant to a criminal conviction,” and cases typically involve the individual falsifying information to fraudulently procure U.S. citizenship.[11]  It would be reasonable for the U.S. government to strengthen their passport confiscation scheme for the purpose of limiting terrorist activity in the U.S. Public safety certainly trumps a suspected terrorist’s ability to enter the country using a valid passport. The U.S.’ reliance upon passport confiscation should seek to curb potential terrorist threats both domestically and internationally.

Ultimately, the need to preserve public safety outweighs an individual’s capacity to possess a passport. The protectionary measures taken by U.K. authorities are a reasonable and necessary response to terrorist activity. As tensions rise with extremist groups in Islamic regions, it is likely that more nations will rely upon stricter policies that forbid certain individuals connected to extremist groups from entering their borders.

 

Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore.

 

[1] UK terror threat level raised to ‘severe’, BBC (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28986271.

[2] Id.

[3] Kim Hjelmgaard, British terror suspects may be stripped of passports, USA Today (Sept. 1, 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/09/01/uk-anti-terror-powers-cameron/14921581/.

[4] UK terror threat level raised to ‘severe’, BBC (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28986271.

[5] Id.

[6] Jessica Elgot, Who Is The Hip Hop Jihadi Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, Linked With James Foley’s Murder? Here’s 9 Things We Know, The Huffington Post UK (Aug. 24, 2014), http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/24/abdel-majed-abdel-bary-hip-hop-jihadi-is-james-foley_n_5705043.html.

[7] Kim Hjelmgaard, British terror suspects may be stripped of passports, USA Today (Sept. 1, 2014), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/09/01/uk-anti-terror-powers-cameron/14921581/.

[8] Id.

[9] Crisis & Terrorism, European Commission Home Affairs (May 28, 2014), http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/crisis-and-terrorism/index_en.htm.

[10] Michael Walsh and Rich Shapiro, UK raises threat level to severe, PM blames ‘poisonous ideology of Islamic extremism’ — U.S. level stays same, New York Daily News (Aug. 29, 2014), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/britain-raises-threat-level-severe-terrorist-attack-highly-article-1.1921283.

[11] USCIS Policy Manual, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Aug. 26, 2014), http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartL-Chapter1.html#text:note-ID0EMP2Q.

 

 

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Author: Ius Gentium

Ius Gentium is a legal forum for the University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows to write on and discuss international and comparative legal issues.

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