• On August 4th 1914, a man was deployed to the cable station at Porthcurno in Cornwall with the job title of “censor”.
• This was part of the mission of the British ship, the Alert, to cut off all of Germany’s communications with the world by sabotaging the Germans’ undersea cables.
• This mission evolved from just crippling the Germans’ ability to communicate, to also gathering intelligence, with over 50,000 messages per day handled by the network of 180 censors at U.K. offices.

On August 4th 1914, a historic moment in the world’s communications history was set in motion. As the British declared war on the Germans the day prior, one of their first missions was to cut off all of Germany’s communications with the world. As a part of this mission, a man was deployed to the cable station at Porthcurno in Cornwall. His job title was “censor.”

This man was one of many deployed across the empire, from Hong Kong to Malta to Singapore. The mission of the censors was to prevent the communication of strategic intelligence between the enemy and their agents. The censors were successful in creating a worldwide system of intercepting communications, known as “censorship.”

The mission of the Alert, the British ship that set sail from the port of Dover on August 5th with a mission of sabotaging the German’s undersea cables, had evolved from just crippling the Germans’ ability to communicate, to also gathering intelligence. This was made possible by the network of 180 censors at U.K. offices, who handled a staggering 50,000 messages per day.

This remarkable mission was a major part of the British’s success in World War I, and set a precedent for the importance of communication surveillance that would come to define much of the 20th century. The system of censorship that the British created was a powerful tool in the war effort, and its legacy lives on today in the form of modern communication surveillance.