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"The Infernal Machine" (new book)
Just finished 'The Infernal Machine' by Larry Hannant. It is
a history of security screening in canada, focusing on the period from
the early 1920s through the end of world war 2. Mass fingerprinting
for security purposes in Canada began, not as is commonly supposed,
with a spy case after the end of the second world war, but in the
early 20s, as a means of catching, tracking, and harrassing
The system expanded from there without public debate or
acknowledgement, through Canadas entry to the second world war.
Although fingerprinting legally was only permissable in the case of
people charged with felonies, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
fingerprinted Communists and other undesirables, who they picked up
for vagrancy or drunkeness. The RCMP was aware that this was a
violation of Canadian law.
At the start of ww2, again without public discussion or
debate, the system was expanded to cover workers in many military
industries. It was only in 1948 that the government acknowledged what
was going on, by giving a stamp of approval to a system already in
The book traces the ties between the RCMP, MI5 and the FBI in
the context of security screening.
Cypherpunk relevancies include the RCMP fear of anonymity, the
expansion of government power unchecked to harrass those with
unpopular and subversive views, and the mechanics of building systems
for tracking millions of fingerprints (with custom Hollerith card
sorters that IBM designed for the purpose.)
I found it interesting and worth the time to read. 1995,
University of Toronto Press, isbn 0-8020-0448-2 (cloth) or
0-8020-7236-4 (paper). $9 in a used bookstore.
(A rant is waiting to be written over the lack of useful
standards in creating ISBNs. Is there a good reason not to have
x-y-z-1 not be the cloth, and x-y-z-2 be the paper edition? (Or some
other obvious relation...))
"It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."