What is the historical background of surveillance?

What is the historical background of surveillance?

Modern Military / Society / Cyber Security

Let’s take a brief look at the history of surveillance in the United States Justice Department:

Early surveillance efforts

In the early years of the Justice Department, surveillance was primarily used to monitor suspected anarchists, socialists, and other political radicals. This surveillance was often conducted without warrants or other legal authority, and was the subject of significant controversy and criticism. 

The 1950s and 1960s

Tweet Text: The #FBI’s December #ArtifactoftheMonth is an Eyemo, a 35mm film camera similar to the one used to conduct surveillance on the Duquesne Spy Ring. Special agents used cameras like this one to film a series of meetings between double agent William Sebold and Nazis.

The Justice Department’s FBI created a program called COINTELPRO, which aimed to disrupt and neutralize political organizations deemed “subversive” by the government. COINTELPRO involved a wide range of surveillance techniques, including wiretapping, break-ins, and the use of informants. Many of these tactics were illegal, and COINTELPRO was eventually exposed and disbanded.

“Nagra SNST”, a miniature reel-to-reel audio recorder. This one dates back to ca. 1975. The Nagra SNST would have been used for “wiring up” an informant, confidential witness, or undercover agent to record a conversation with a suspect.

CIA Deputy Director Jennifer Ewbank Sits Down With Rebellion Research

CIA Director David Petraeus on Intelligence Today

Post-9/11 surveillance

Before and after pictures, note the missing South Tower

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center & the Pentagon, the Justice Department dramatically expanded its surveillance activities. The USA PATRIOT Act gave law enforcement agencies broad new powers to monitor phone and internet communications, conduct secret searches, and track individuals’ movements.

FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force

Furthermore, these efforts have continued to evolve over the years, with the government relying increasingly on sophisticated data-mining techniques and other forms of high-tech surveillance. 

FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio

As one of our favorite legal minds, Yale Law School’s Logan Beirne points out:

2015’s Klayman v. Obama

Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the NSA tracking all Americans’ phone calls is “probably unconstitutional.” Furthermore “such a program infringes on ‘the degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment…the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast.”

Snowden revelations

In 2013, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents (in a dangerous fashion) revealing the extent of the government’s surveillance activities, including the bulk collection of phone and internet data from millions of Americans. As a result, the revelations sparked a major public debate about the balance between privacy and security. Furthermore, led to the supposed reforms of some surveillance programs.

Yale Law’s Logan Beirne on the Revolutionary War

What is the historical background of surveillance?