From the January 2000 Idaho Observer:

Snip, snip

by The Idaho Observer

“WASHINGTON (AP) -- Behind the closed door of Room 2439, a handful of government clerks search through radical newspapers, methodically snipping out names.

“They are hunting Americans favorably mentioned by the publications of dissent.

“Found, snipped, checked, reviewed, the names are conveyed down a wide clean corridor to be fed into a 'subversive activities' data bank already bulging with the names of 1.5 million citizens.”

This article, headlined “Government's files Contain Mountains of Information About Citizens” was published in the Statesman of Salem, Oregon, April 19, 1970.

The clerks were “low level servants of the Civil Service Commission, the agency set up to oversee federal employment,” the article explained.

The 60s and the 70s were described as an age of “dissent and social turmoil” -- reasons to justify government keeping a close eye on its citizens. And this was in the J. Edgar Hoover age of manual snipping -- before the electronic age of scanning.

The article was written from an Associated Press study which discovered that millions of files were being kept on American citizens by several branches of the federal government. The army was keeping a “blacklist' which included names of civilians “who might be involved in civil disturbance situations.” Another Defense Department list was a “two-volume, yellow-covered, loose-leaf publication entitled, 'Organizations and Cities of Interest and Individuals of Interest.'”

The FBI and Naval Intelligence, sometimes with the help of local police, had been known to examine “the garbage of an entire apartment house to find information about one tenant.” The Secret Service had set up a computer to store the names of 100,000 people and 50,000 dossiers on persons who it “believes could be dangerous to top government officials.”

By 1970, a Senate subcommittee found that the federal government had access to 264 million police records, 323 million medical histories and 279 million psychiatric dossiers -- each category being greater than the population of the entire country (then and now). And those figures did not include tax records, census data, social security files, military service histories and public records on file at a county courthouse.

If the 1960s and 1970s was an age of social turmoil and dissent in the eyes of an obviously paranoid government, then the 1990s must surely qualify as such an age as well. The difference being that then the government was particularly suspicious of specific racist organizations such as the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan. Today, with a much larger percentage of Americans being distrustful of the federal government and the espionage advantages of the electronic age, it can be safely argued that, if a group or a person is on paper or stored in a computer, the government knows about their activities.

It is interesting to go back on old articles to see how far we have come. It is also interesting to see how we have been warned over and over again that Big Brother has been growing up. We should have sent him to his room 30 years ago when a sharp reprimand and taking his toys away would have sufficed. But now that he has grown up to be such a powerfully arrogant monster, we can expect him to throw a full-blown tantrum when we finally get tired of his peeking into the most private rooms of our lives.

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