Ryan Avent puts the NSA’s data collection in historical context:
One of the interesting points in Tyler Cowen’s ebook “The Great Stagnation” is that, historically, technological advance has both created demand for and enabled growth in the reach of the state.
Air travel, for instance, generated interest in and demand for government involvement in everything from direct production of aircraft to construction of airports to management of air traffic to control over passenger security. Those demands broadened the scope of government involvment in our lives—being groped and/or photographed naked is now a standard part of life for the American traveling public—while also directly expanding the government’s reach in other ways. The same technology that allows travelers to flit off for a weekend in the Bahamas gives America the ability to project power across the globe.
Growth in Leviathan’s tentacles therefore amounts to a not-half-bad measure of technological progress in society. It is no coincidence that the period from 1870 to 1950, a remarkable era of human technological achievement, also happened to include a dizzying and unprecedented growth in the state.