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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.While the United Nations held a travel conference in 1963, no passport guidelines resulted from it.Passport standardization came about in 1980, under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).For example, stateless persons are not normally issued a national passport, but may be able to obtain a refugee travel document or the earlier "Nansen passport" which enables them to travel to countries which recognise the document, and sometimes to return to the issuing country.Passports are often requested in other circumstances to confirm identification such as checking in to a hotel or when changing money to a local currency.ICAO standards include those for machine-readable passports.Such passports have an area where some of the information otherwise written in textual form is written as strings of alphanumeric characters, printed in a manner suitable for optical character recognition.

British tourists of the 1920s complained, especially about attached photographs and physical descriptions, which they considered led to a "nasty dehumanization".

Standard passports may contain information such as the holder's name, place and date of birth, photograph, signature, and other identifying information.

Many countries are moving towards including biometric information in a microchip embedded in the passport, making them machine-readable and difficult to counterfeit.

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.

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