A Prisoner of War (POW) is a combatant who is imprisoned by an enemy power during an armed conflict.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 provides a framework of protective rights of POWs. The basic principle is that being a soldier is not a punishable act in itself. The laws apply from the moment a prisoner is captured until he is released or repatriated. One of the main provisions of the convention makes it illegal to torture prisoners, and states that a prisoner can only be required to give his name, date of birth, rank and serial number (if applicable).
To be entitled to prisoner of war status, the combatant must conduct operations according to the laws and customs of war, e.g. be part of a chain of command, wear a uniform and bear arms openly. Thus, franc-tireurs, terrorists and spies are excluded. It also does not include unarmed non-combatants who are captured in time of war; they are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention rather than the Third Geneva Convention.
The United States uses the term enemy prisoner of war (EPW) for hostile forces, reserving the term prisoner of war for its own or Allied forces.