fired. Interestingly, the Espionage Act remains coded in U.S. law to this day, though enforcement of its provisions has been reserved for times of war.14

After World War I, similar loyalty-surveillance tactics were used against Socialists and labor unions, and such tactics later re-emerged in full force during World War II against Japanese-Americans. According to scholars William Seltzer and Margo Anderson,15 the Bureau of the Census assisted U.S. law enforcement authorities in carrying out the presidentially ordered internment of Japanese-Americans. Thus, a surveillance practice established for ostensibly benign statistical purposes was used for the implementation of the most oppressive domestic government action in U.S. history, aside from the negative treatment meted out against African American slaves and Native Americans. Although loyalty surveillance would never reach such overt extremes again, its presence would continue to dominate American political life from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

Another government agency highly dependent on gathering information from most U.S. citizens was the Bureau of Internal Revenue (which became the Internal Revenue Service in 1952). Initially set up as the office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the agency was responsible for the collection of the first income tax in the United States between 1862 and 1872. However, the authority of the U.S. Congress to levy an income tax was not established until 1913, with the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. Income tax in that year was graduated, and so the commissioner needed to keep track of the income of all taxpayers, giving rise to one of the first centralized document databases of the U.S. government.

By the 1930s, personal identification documents, whose proliferation was initially prompted by the outbreak of World War I, were important means for distinguishing those who were eligible for state programs from those who were not. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal offered Americans new benefits, including Social Security and labor standards, in order to pull the country out of the Great Depression. Yet, at the same time, the New Deal substantially increased the government’s administrative burden, requiring new surveillance procedures to keep track of the millions of new benefit recipients and minimize fraudulent claims. This uneasy combination of social benefits and regulatory mechanisms would come


It was used again during the civil rights conflicts of the 1960s, since the United States was officially in a state of perpetual emergency from the time of the Korean War. See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, HarperCollins, New York, 2003, pp. 542-544.


William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, “After Pearl Harbor: The Proper Role of Population Data Systems in Time of War,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, Calif., March 2000; also available at the American Statistical Association’s Statisticians in History Web site.

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