Lincoln Had a Surveillance State, Too

But it went away after the war: professor
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2013 10:30 AM CDT
Lincoln Had a Surveillance State, Too
An image made from an 1863 glass plate negative of President Abraham Lincoln.   (AP Photo/Abraham Lincoln Book Shop Inc.)

In its day, it was about as high-tech as surveillance got: Abe Lincoln let war secretary Edwin Stanton reroute the nation's telegraph lines through his office in 1862 so he could keep tabs on, and control, the flow of information about the war from generals, journalists, and ordinary citizens, writes media studies professor David Mindich in the New York Times. At one point, a House panel grew so worried about the "telegraphic censorship" that it called for restraint. Eventually, however, the war ended, and so did the eavesdropping.

"Part of the reason this calculus was acceptable to me was that the trade-offs were not permanent," writes Mindich. Similar surveillance, ever more high-tech, happened in subsequent wars, but it always receded when the war ended. Which brings us to Edward Snowden and the war on terror. "If history is any guide, ending the seemingly endless state of war is the first step in returning our civil liberties," writes Mindich. Because given the state of snooping today, Stanton himself might be aghast at the potential for abuse. Click for the full column. (Read more Abraham Lincoln stories.)

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