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The earliest reference to these documents is found in a 1414 Act of Parliament.
In 1540, granting travel documents in England became a role of the Privy Council of England, and it was around this time that the term "passport" was used.
In the later part of the nineteenth century and up to World War I, passports were not required, on the whole, for travel within Europe, and crossing a border was a relatively straightforward procedure.
Consequently, comparatively few people held passports. During World War I, European governments introduced border passport requirements for security reasons, and to control the emigration of people with useful skills.
Many countries normally allow entry to holders of passports of other countries, sometimes requiring a visa also to be obtained, but this is not an automatic right.
Many other additional conditions, such as not being likely to become a public charge for financial or other reasons, and the holder not having been convicted of a crime, may apply.
Where a country does not recognise another, or is in dispute with it, it may prohibit the use of their passport for travel to that other country, or may prohibit entry to holders of that other country's passports, and sometimes to others who have, for example, visited the other country.
Some countries and international organisations issue travel documents which are not standard passports, but enable the holder to travel internationally to countries that recognise the documents.
Certain legal tenets follow, namely: first, passports are issued in the name of the state; second, no person has a legal right to be issued a passport; third, each country's government, in exercising its executive discretion, has complete and unfettered discretion to refuse to issue or to revoke a passport; and fourth, that the latter discretion is not subject to judicial review. Under some circumstances some countries allow people to hold more than one passport document.The speed of trains, as well as the number of passengers that crossed multiple borders, made enforcement of passport laws difficult.The general reaction was the relaxation of passport requirements.Previously issued passports usually remain valid until each expires.
A passport holder is normally entitled to enter the country that issued the passport, though some people entitled to a passport may not be full citizens with right of abode.
The passport's critical information is stored on a tiny RFID computer chip, much like information stored on smartcards.