American Big Brother by Cato Institute


In his 2004 book Perilous Times, Geoffrey R. Stone observes that with respect to free speech rights in wartime, “Time and again, Americans have suppressed dissent, imprisoned and deported dissenters, and then—later—regretted their actions.” In reality, as this timeline demonstrates, it is not simply American’s free speech rights that are often threatened by federal agencies. The federal government’s penchant for surveilling, penetrating, and actively subverting domestic political activities by individuals and groups spans periods of peace and war over more than a century.

Whether protesting the march to war, federal policy on AIDS research, civil rights violations, or simply enjoying the Nevada desert at a “Burning Man” gathering, the common theme that emerges is that simply publicly expressing strong political views that run counter to the prevailing government political paradigm is often enough to trigger federal government surveillance.

The purpose of this data visualization is to further public understanding of the scope of this problem by visualizing relevant events in a timeline, both as point events, and programs that spanned sometimes multiple decades.


We observed two main take aways by mapping the “Century of Surveillance” on a timeline visualization.

1-Some periods in US history were accompanied with increased surveillance by the state. Maintly the WW1 era, Cold War and in particular the Post-9/11 period saw dramatic increases in surveillance.

2-Once enacted, surveillance programs tend to last a long time with often no congressional supervision, many times long after the initial target threat has disappeared.