Matt Stoller on understanding that the United States was birthed as a surveillance society:
American political surveillance is older than the republic itself.
Think about it this way. Slaves were controlled in a largely totalitarian society, even before the American Revolution, and this lasted until the Civil War. This society involved radical restrictions on peoples’ ability to read, travel, work for pay, trade, own property, marry, and not be physically and mentally abused. At the core of slavery was an aggressive need for control, it was the mother of all totalitarian surveillance cultures. This surveillance didn’t just involve slaves, but surveillance of those who sought to free slaves via such institutions as the Underground Railroad.
After slavery and a brief interlude of Reconstruction, sharecropping and segregation took its place, and sharecropping was enforced by a reign of terror by both legal institutions like local police and commercial monopolies of credit, railroads, and farm supplies, and extra-legal institutions like the KKK.
Finally, in the early 1900s, we get to the establishment of the FBI and the ACLU, as well as the creation of public relations, propaganda, and the entire advertising culture. This was kicked off or accelerated by mass consumption and World War I, and the development of fingerprinting and photograph techniques. The next big leap forward was the computerization of records, in the 1960s, and the reaction against the civil rights movement with COINTELPRO and so forth. But political surveillance, it’s important to remember, is part of the fabric of American culture, and always has been.
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