It’s strange to think about now, but until the 1920s, you didn’t generally need a passport to travel. A smart CEO I know recently mentioned this to me in the context of what’s happening to the internet. The idea of making citizens carry documents to promote border security, he said, dates only to the aftermath of World War I.
The online world is much younger than the offline one, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that it is generally a much freer place to travel. There are places you can’t easily get to, such as the so-called dark web; and places you can’t easily travel the internet from, such as North Korea. Generally, though, anyone with internet access has historically been able to access the vast majority of it.
Reading today’s news about the European Union’s passage of the Copyright Directive, though, I wondered whether we would all soon need passports as we travel around the web. The internet had previously been divided into two: the open web, which most of the world could access; and the authoritarian web of countries like China, which is parceled out stingily and heavily monitored.