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This essay examines existing sociological explanations of the development of the central surveillance of citizens in the light of the English experience, and finds them wanting. Sociologists see the state using surveillance for the benefit of capitalist elites, to reimpose social control over the “society of strangers” created by industrialisation. But surveillance pre-dated industrialisation, and the development of information gathering by state elites had more to do with their own need to preserve their position both within the English polity, and international geo-politics.