Birth of a Revolutionary Censorship System: World War I and Beyond

• The deployment of a “censor” to the cable station at Porthcurno in Cornwall in 1914 marks the birth of a worldwide system of intercepting communications between the enemy and their agents.
• The mission of the British ship Alert was to sabotage the Germans‘ undersea cables and cut off all of Germany’s communications with the world.
• Censorship proved to be an effective way of preventing the communication of strategic intelligence between the enemy and their agents.

On August 4, 1914, a man was sent to the cable station at Porthcurno in Cornwall to begin a mission that would revolutionize the world and shape the future of communication. That man was a „censor,“ and his job was to intercept communications between the enemy and their agents, ultimately preventing the communication of strategic intelligence. This was the beginning of a worldwide system of censorship that would take hold across the British Empire from Hong Kong to Malta to Singapore.

The deployment of the censor came a day before the Alert, a British ship, set sail from the port of Dover with a mission to cut off all of Germany’s communications with the world. The Alert successfully completed its mission by sabotaging the Germans‘ undersea cables, which at the time was the most sophisticated system in the world.

The censorship system was so effective that it was able to intercept over 50,000 messages per day across the 180 censors at U.K. offices. It was not only used to prevent communication between the enemy but also to gather intelligence. The system proved to be so successful that it laid the groundwork for the evolution of communication throughout the world, from the invention of the telephone to the internet.

Censorship is still used in many countries around the world, although it has become far more complex and sophisticated. It is used to censor information deemed inappropriate or even dangerous, while also preventing the communication of sensitive information, especially in times of war. Although the censorship system of 1914 was created in a time of war, it had a lasting impact that is still felt today.