We Know All About You shows how bulk spying came of age in the nineteenth century, and supplies the first overarching narrative and interpretation of what has happened since, covering the agencies, programs, personalities, technology, leaks, criticisms and reform.
Concentrating on America and Britain, it delves into the roles of credit agencies, private detectives, and phone-hacking journalists as well as government agencies like the NSA and GCHQ, and highlights malpractices such as the blacklist and illegal electronic interceptions.
It demonstrates that several presidents - Franklin D.
Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon - conducted political surveillance, and how British agencies have been under a constant cloud of suspicion for similar reasons.
We Know All About You continues with an account of the 1970s leaks that revealed how the FBI and CIA kept tabs on anti-Vietnam War protestors, and assesses the reform impulse that began in America and spread to Britain.
The end of the Cold War further undermined confidence in the need for surveillance, but it returned with a vengeance after 9/11. The book shows how reformers challenged that new expansionism, assesses the political effectiveness of the Snowden revelations, and offers an appraisal of legislative initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic.
Micro-stories and character sketches of individuals ranging from Pinkerton detective James McParlan to recent whisteblowers illuminate the book.
We Know All About You confirms that governments have a record of abusing surveillance powers once granted, but emphasizes that problems arising from private sector surveillance have been particularly neglected.