Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

The Secret History of American Surveillance

Published on October 18, 2015 by   ·   No Comments


You might think that the surveillance state of America is a new thing, but it goes back a long way according the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal:

From cellphone spying to facial scanning technology to massive data farms, it’s no secret that the U.S. government is gathering loads of personal information on its citizens.

But few remember the origins of our modern surveillance state. Some argue that it was forged over 115 years ago, half a world away in the Philippine Islands.

Ralph Van Deman.jpgCapt. Ralph Van Deman, “the father of U.S. military intelligence.”

The story begins in the mid-1870s, when a technological renaissance catapulted America into its first information revolution. Thomas Edison’s quadruplex telegraph and Philo Remington’s typewriter allowed data to be recorded accurately and transmitted quickly. Inventions such as the electrical tabulating machine and the Dewey Decimal System could count, catalog and retrieve huge amounts of information efficiently. Photography was becoming widely accessible, thanks to George Eastman’s roll film, and biometric criminal identification systems such as fingerprinting were adopted from Europe. Our ability to manage, store and transmit data grew by leaps and bounds.

When the U.S. occupied the Philippines in 1898, these inventions became the building blocks for a full-scale surveillance state that was used to suppress Filipino resistance.

According to historian Alfred McCoy, who has written extensively on this topic, Capt. Ralph Van Deman – dubbed “the father of U.S. military intelligence” – masterminded a security apparatus that compiled “phenomenally detailed information on thousands of Filipino leaders, including their physical appearance, personal finances, landed property, political loyalties, and kinship networks.” The system ended up indexing 70 percent of Manila’s entire population.

This total information control coupled with laws such as the Sedition Act, which severely punished anyone who engaged in “subversive” political activity, allowed the governor-general of the islands, William Howard Taft, to manipulate and blackmail anyone at will…

[continues at Reveal]

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