Your papers, please

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German Ordnungspolizei officers examining a man's papers in Nazi-occupied Poland, 1941

"Your papers, please" (or "Papers, please") is an expression or trope associated with police state functionaries demanding identification from citizens during random stops or at checkpoints.[1] It is a cultural metaphor for life in a police state.[2][3]

The phrase was popularized as the first line in the classic 1942 movie Casablanca which depicted life in Vichy-controlled Casablanca during World War II. The film opens with a scene of police officers searching a hotel for refugees fleeing from Nazi-controlled territory. The first line of the film is spoken by a police officer to a civilian he stopped on the street: "May we see your papers, please?" The civilian produces a document, but a second police officer declares that it "expired three weeks ago" and begins to tell the civilian he is under arrest. The civilian attempts to flee the police but a gunshot is heard and the civilian falls to the ground.[4]

Use in the United Kingdom[edit]

In 2009, the Conservative Party leader David Cameron used the trope with a German accent whilst criticising the idea of ID cards in the United Kingdom by asking a Q&A session "Where are your papers?".[5]

Use in the United States[edit]

The phrase has been used disparagingly in the debate over Real ID and national ID cards in the United States.[6][7][8]

It has also been used to refer to interactions with citizens during police stops[9][10] and immigration enforcement.[11] Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law requiring people to carry identification was dubbed the "Papers, Please" law.[12]

The phrase has also been used by the press in relation to a February 2017 incident in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents searching for a suspect demanded identification from passengers exiting a domestic flight.[13][14] In January 2018, bus passengers allege that Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus in Florida and demanded U.S. identification or a passport from all of those on board.[15]

A lawsuit against Glendale, Arizona police officers alleges that a passenger in a car was tasered on the genitals after he asked an officer why he needed to identify himself during a 2017 traffic stop.[16]

A report from Big Brother Watch, a London-based nongovernmental privacy advocacy group say police use of facial recognition technology in public spaces is like people being "asked for their papers without their consent".[17][18]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase was used to refer to vaccine mandate policies enacted in places like New York City.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duncan Long (1 January 2007). Protect Your Privacy: How to Protect Your Identity as Well as Your Financial, Personal, and Computer Records in an Age of Constant Surveillance. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 223–. ISBN 978-1-59921-687-4.
  2. ^ Margaret Hu (November 15, 2011). "'Show Me Your Papers' Laws and American Cultural Values". Jurist.
  3. ^ Michael A. Caloyannides (2004). Privacy Protection and Computer Forensics. Artech House. pp. 298–. ISBN 978-1-58053-831-2.
  4. ^ Epstein, Julius. "Casablanca Screenplay" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 November 2020.
  5. ^ "David Cameron adopts German accent to mock ID cards". 15 June 2009.
  6. ^ "Panel Discussion: Your Papers Please, What the Real ID Act Means for American Values". New York Civil Liberties Union. 15 April 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  7. ^ Sen. Rand Paul (May 24, 2013). "PAUL: Blocking the pathway to a national ID". The Washington Times.
  8. ^ Tomás R. Jiménez and Mark Krikorian Tomás (February 7, 2008). "Your papers, please". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ "'Your Papers, Please:' ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Protect Right to Remain Anonymous". American Civil Liberties Union. March 22, 2004.
  10. ^ Riggs, Mike (February 25, 2014). "Yes, Police Can Arrest You for Failing to Identify Yourself". CityLab.
  11. ^ Alfonso Serrano (September 7, 2012). "Immigration Update: Arizona Police Can Now Ask, 'Papers Please'". Time.
  12. ^ Raymond, Adam K. (21 November 2016). "Trump Cabinet Hopeful Forgets Cover Sheet, Exposes DHS Plan for All to See". The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  13. ^ Epps, Garrett (February 27, 2017). "Papers, Please". The Atlantic.
  14. ^ Hamilton, Keegan (February 23, 2017). "Your papers, please". Vice.
  15. ^ Joshua Rhett Miller (January 23, 2018). "Border agent arrest aboard Greyhound bus triggers outcry". New York Post.
  16. ^ McLaughlin, Eliott C. (February 10, 2019). "Officer used Taser on man's genitals, says lawsuit accusing Arizona police of torture". CNN.
  17. ^ Burdeau, Cain (July 5, 2019). "Report Blasts London Police Use of Facial Recognition Cameras". Courthouse News.
  18. ^ Face Off: The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing (PDF) (Report). Big Brother Watch. May 2018. p. 7. Retrieved 2023-01-23.
  19. ^ "Opinion | Your Vaccine Papers, Please". Wall Street Journal. 3 August 2021.
  20. ^ Torrance, Kelly Jane (19 August 2021). "Unfair Bill de Blasio: Papers, please!". New York Post.