Credit Bureaus Were the NSA of the 19th Century
In a time before Borges, Kafka, or Orwell, newspapers struggled to find the right literary allusion to describe the mechanistic tableau unfolding before their eyes. (The Brooklyn Eagle went with Dickens’s Bleak House). Their horror wasn’t just from the outrage of being spied on or slandered. They were coming face to face with bureaucratic surveillance for the first time—one hundred years before the founding of the National Security Agency.
[T]he agencies relied on networks of locals sending written dispatches back to the central office. They sought information (often unreliably subjective) about a person’s credit-worthiness, judged not just in terms of his financial circumstances, but his personal character—Was he married? Did he have children? Who were his parents? What church did he attend?