Interesting article: "500 Years of History Shows that Mass Spying Is Always Aimed at Crushing Dissent."
The Supreme Court provided interesting historical details in the case of Marcus v. Search Warrant (1961):
The use by government of the power of search and seizure as an adjunct to a system for the suppression of objectionable publications … was a principal instrument for the enforcement of the Tudor licensing system. The Stationers’ Company was incorporated in 1557 to help implement that system, and was empowered
“to make search whenever it shall please them in any place, shop, house, chamber, or building or any printer, binder or bookseller whatever within our kingdom of England or the dominions of the same of or for any books or things printed, or to be printed, and to seize, take hold, burn, or turn to the proper use of the aforesaid community, all and several those books and things which are or shall be printed contrary to the form of any statute, act, or proclamation, made or to be made. . . .
An order of counsel confirmed and expanded the Company’s power in 1566, and the Star Chamber reaffirmed it in 1586 by a decree
“That it shall be lawful for the wardens of the said Company for the time being or any two of the said Company thereto deputed by the said wardens, to make search in all workhouses, shops, warehouses of printers, booksellers, bookbinders, or where they shall have reasonable cause of suspicion, and all books [etc.] . . . contrary to . . . these present ordinances to stay and take to her Majesty’s use. . . . ”
Books thus seized were taken to Stationers’ Hall where they were inspected by ecclesiastical officers, who decided whether they should be burnt. These powers were exercised under the Tudor censorship to suppress both Catholic and Puritan dissenting literature.
I'd take it back much more than 500 years. Soldiering and spying are the second and third oldest professions, and I'm not sure which belongs in second place. (Neither am I sure where one trade ends and the other begins.)
In ancient Rome, the frumentarii were the Emperor's secret service. Yes, they spied on the enemy -- but much of their time was spent in the city of Rome itself, constantly searching out dissenters and conspirators.
"Frumentarii" means "wheat collector," which indicates the trade that provided them with remarkably versatile cover. Because the empire ran on wheat, spies were everywhere. From the Life of Hadrian in the Historia Augusta
Moreover, his vigilance was not confined to his own household but extended to those of his friends, and by means of his private agents [the frumentarii] he even pried into all their secrets, and so skilfully that they were never aware that the Emperor was acquainted with their private lives until he revealed it himself. In this connection, the insertion of an incident will not be unwelcome, showing that he found out much about his friends. The wife of a certain man wrote to her husband, complaining that he was so preoccupied by pleasures and baths that he would not return home to her, and Hadrian found this out through his private agents. And so, when the husband asked for a furlough, Hadrian reproached him with his fondness for his baths and his pleasures. Whereupon the man exclaimed: "What, did my wife write you just what she wrote to me?" And, indeed, as for this habit of Hadrian's, men regard it as a most grievous fault, and add to their criticism the statements which are current regarding the passion for males and the adulteries with married women to which he is said to have been addicted, adding also the charge that he did not even keep faith with his friends.
Soon enough, everyone learned to despise the frumentarii. When the emperor Macrinus (217-218) made his chief Spooky Wheat Dude a senator, he lost all popularity and his enemies were able to seize power.
Moral of story: Oppressive spookery can make you weaker
, not more powerful.