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"This will make him a fine, useful animal"

Threats to civil liberties take many forms in Herb Block's cartoons, as exemplified by his sleek, lunging "Wiretapping beast," later described by Block as "the illegal and unlicensed pet of supposed law enforcement officers." With his depiction of the uncaged panther, Block warned against the Kennedy administration's expression of support in July of 1961 for legislative proposals to permit federal wiretapping related to threats to national security, kidnapping, and serious federal crimes.

"This will make him a fine, useful animal." Published in The Washington Post, July 20, 1961. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Quote from Straight Herblock(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964). Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (21). Digital ID # ppmsca-11985

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The Recording Angels

Herb Block depicted government wiretapping of private telephone conversations as bats in the night snooping for private gain rather than as guardian angels. In 1955, Block wrote: "The Attorney General of the United States, in his boundless zeal to protect the government from anything which protects the rights of individuals, has modestly requested that he be empowered to authorize taps on telephones at his own discretion." At this time, the Eisenhower administration argued that the fear of communism pervading the country justified investigating American citizens.

The Recording Angels. Published in The Washington Post, March 14, 1955. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Quote from Herblock's Here and Now (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955). Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (22). Digital ID # ppmsca-11986

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Personal Profile

Herb Block graphically conveyed his concern for individual privacy by depicting a fragile silhouette being blasted into oblivion by the collecting of personal data, which is exploited by the economic and political forces of credit and government agencies. In late 1976 and early 1977, the individual's right to privacy as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment (i.e., protection from unreasonable search and seizure) was hotly debated as Congress and the judicial system pondered decisions on access to such vital personal papers as medical and banking records. A rough sketch for this cartoon identifies the types of personal data and the collecting agencies at issue.

Personal Profile. Published in The Washington Post, January 12, 1977. Sketch. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing accompanied by graphite sketch. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (23). Digital ID # ppmsca-11987

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"To preserve secrecy we overclassify lots more material, requiring lots more people with security clearances, resulting in more spying, so - "

In this cartoon, Herb Block portrayed the federal government's approach to classified documents as an endless cycle. He reinforced his point with the oval shaped text, an idea which may have begun with the accompanying rough sketch. In 1985, the FBI exposed a spy ring operated by Naval officer John A. Walker, Jr. It became clear that many key documents relating to national security had been exposed and that millions of people had access to them. On June 6, 1985, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation released a report calling for a reduction in classification and further restriction in the number of personnel who could access the records.

"To preserve secrecy we overclassify lots more material, requiring lots more people with security clearances, resulting in more spying, so - " Published in The Washington Post, June 7, 1985. Sketch. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing accompanied by graphite sketch. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (24). Digital ID # ppmsca-11988

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Sections: Environment | Ethics | Extremism | Get Out the Vote | Middle East | Privacy/Security | War