The WWI Origins of the Surveillance State

“The First World War is what changed that because before [WWI], and even during the war, the idea was the government was not big enough to do everything.”

This article may look like an interesting historical footnote, but it’s also extremely important.

I’ve mentioned before how mass surveillance is far older than people think. The traditional narrative about how the NSA was “deaf and blind” before 9/11 and then suddenly turned into a data-octopus is, well, total bullshit.

This article explains neatly the real origins of the stuff that Edward Snowden is protesting against — in World War I, and the 1917 Espionage Act.

Particularly interesting is an odd contradiction in terms, a sort of Hegelian dialectic, in which mass domestic surveillance in the US was permitted because people at the time “mostly trusted their government” and saw it as the tool for implementing necessary social reforms.

At the same time, the spying was occaisioned by a “deep rooted suspicion against anything that smacked of socialism.”

In other words, they wanted socialism… but were suspicious of it? And now they got it in ways that nobody wants? Go figure.

Anyway, if you want to understand “what you’re fighting against” in the political sense when you argue against mass surveillance, it’s probably a good idea to pay closer attention to the world war that people tend to forget.

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