Jeffrey Kahn Talks ‘Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost’ on NPR’s Think

by Phillip Witteveen on June 13, 2013

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Jeffrey Kahn joined Krys Boyd on NPR-affiliate KERA’s Think to discuss the subject of his latest book,  Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists. Kahn is an associate professor of law at the SMU Dedman School of Law, where he teaches American constitutional law, Russian law, human rights, and counter-terrorism. In Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost, he “brilliantly polishes an undervalued gem of the Constitution—the Citizenship Clause,” according to critic Susan Ginsburg.

Kahn traces legal inhibitions on travel back to the wartime restrictions on citizens’ rights at the turn of the last century, and the introduction of the passport.

“You would think that passports were always the same because they serve an essential function—a citizen goes somewhere, you need a passport to go. But that’s really a creature of the 21st century,” says Kahn. As travel became more feasible and commonplace, passports were more widely used. In the beginning, though, they were not so much a control on port-entry by foreigners, but rather a control on the travel of U.S. nationals going abroad.

At one point in our history, all the permissions for any travel came down through a single bureaucrat—Mrs. Ruth Shipley. She instituted complex system to determine who was, and was not, going to be allowed to leave the country. If she decided you couldn’t go, then it was not legally possible to do so.

“The system that she created has now been regularized,” Kahn said. “There is no Mrs. Shipley who’s going to control your access to a passport. Passports aren’t used to control travel in the same way they were in her day. Now, it’s an anonymized, highly classified, secret, government watchlist—the No-Fly List, which is composed by many, many analysts. [The title] ‘Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost’ refers to how her concept of controlling travel has been diffused. It’s the ghost in the machine, this machine of all these computers and databases.”

You can listen to the full conversation here. And pick up Kahn’s book for the full story of how Mrs. Shipley’s ghost still haunts American tourism today.

 

 

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