We are bombarded with a drumbeat of new intrusions into our lives both private and public. There is of course the obvious things like social media and all the info there that goes out to the general public and to private companies plus being swept by the Government when they want. We have the concern of the GPS being automatic in our new cars, the security cameras that are now ubiquitous everywhere in public, the stop light cameras and even drones now circling over head. This doesn’t even count the old-fashioned collection of private data through the once a decade census reports and the annual IRS tax return that details much about our financial life. There is an understandable concern about the lack of privacy and having to share so much personal data with the public in general and with the Government in particular.
Most people like to have something that is very private and many like the idea of not having to report much of anything to the Government. A great deal of the angst by gun owners now over the debate about new gun laws is probably as much about privacy from Government as it is about the guns themselves. It is true that some of the kids seem to love letting everyone know everything about themselves all day long but that ain’t the norm for most of us and even those kids will be adult some day and treasure their privacy more than they do today. This mining of personal data and the conflict between citizenry and Government regarding its collection and use is an old one.
In Biblical times Moses was burdened with the charge to count the people of Israel and break them into tribes with different duties such as the priests. There are detailed number counts of the tribes in the Old Testament. Similar surveys are found in early Babylonian writings. Kings and governments have always wanted to know who they could tax and what the resources were for war and public projects and gathered data one way or another. One of the most extensive such surveys was made by William the Bastard or Conqueror if your were Norman shortly after his conquest in 1066 of England after winning the Battle of Hastings. Shortly after consolidating his victory and conquest he ordered a grand census and survey of his new holdings. His purposes were several. He wanted to know who owned land and a count of the serfs living there and other assets such as livestock or fishponds or mills, grains and the estimated value of same so he could tax them; he also wanted to know what lands were available that he could award to his fellow Normans as a reward for their loyalty and payment for military service. In addition to taxes the King in those feudal system was entitled to other dues besides hard tax dollars. Often the King or liege lord was entitled to specific goods, such as a share of crops or beeves or even military service to pay what we would call “rents”. This grand survey came to be known as the Doomsday Book.
William literally sent out his men throughout England and much of Wales to count everything. They would record the name of the local landowner, how much land he owned, his cattle and other assets and then assign a value to them. Their determination was non-appealable (unless you were a special friend of the King, as it has always been since we moved from caves to cities). They would call in a “jury” of locals to affirm the accuracy of the data and then have them sign off on the conclusion. It was not consistent in its measures due to the differences in each “surveying team” and the diligence they applied to the task but generally they did record the vital data. They couldn’t go to the local county deed record office because those didn’t exist yet. In those days when land was sold it was a very formal affair so that there would be no question later about what had transpired. The seller and buyer would meet before witnesses and the seller would literally give a handful of dirt to the buyer signifying the transfer of the land. Yes, there would be a deed but there was no organized record keeping system. Everyone in the great survey was a victim and a participant in the activity by the King’s writ. Even without IPads they really did record boatloads of data and they did it all in just a couple of years. Then everything was compiled by hand into one longer catalogue of many volumes.
As you can well imagine there was a great hue and cry among the Anglo-Saxons and attempts to evade the process but most had to comply on pain of the King’s vengeance. The Normans loved it of course because it revealed potential new lands to cease from the losers of the recent war of conquest. The natives didn’t like strangers walking their land making notes and then turning in that data to the King far away who would tax them based on that information without realizing the local conditions from season to season in the growing of crops or the spread of disease that reduced the population of the serfs. But the protests were of no avail. The King had the weapons and the locals had lost the war. They were truly subjects of the government. The resentment to the government grew and grew over the next few generations. You recall Robin Hood and King Richard the Lionhearted off on his crusade and his brother King John taking over the rule of the realm. They were still mostly Norman as was John. But then came Magna Carta. It was a long way from our Declaration of Independence or Constitution but it was the first and real dramatic step in reining in the power of central government. Hopefully it won’t take generations for us to rein in our current over-reaching and intrusive Federal Government with a new Magna Carta.
“Political liberty is good only so far as it produces private liberty.” Samuel Johnson, English essayist and dictionary writer of 18th Century. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com