Modern telecommunications technology implied the development of modern telecommunications surveillance, because it moved the scope of action from the physical world (where intelligence, generally seen as part of the military mission, had acted) to the virtual world—including the scope of those actions that could threaten state power. While the public line may have been, as US Secretary of State Henry Stimson said in 1929, “gentlemen do not open each other’s mail”, you can bet that they always did keep a keen eye on the comings and goings of each other’s shipping traffic. The real reason that surveillance in the context of state intelligence was limited until recently was because it was too expensive, and it was too expensive for everyone. The Westphalian compromise demands equality of agency as tied to territory. As soon as one side gains a significant advantage, the structure of sovereignty itself is threatened at a conceptual level?—?hence Oppenheimer as the death of any hope of international rule of law. Once surveillance became cheap enough, all states were (and will increasingly be) forced to attempt it at scale, as a reaction to this pernicious efficiency. The US may be ahead of the game now, but Moore’s law and productization will work their magic here.
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