Andrew Curry wrote recently in Wired about Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police It's a stark warning of where the totalitarian leanings of the Blair/Brown Bush/Cheney 'be afraid be very afraid but we will protect you' politics can ultimately lead.
"Ulrike Poppe used to be one of the most surveilled women in East Germany. For 15 years, agents of the Stasi (short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service) followed her, bugged her phone and home, and harassed her unremittingly, right up until she and other dissidents helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, the study in Poppe's Berlin apartment is lined floor to 12-foot ceiling with bookshelves full of volumes on art, literature, and political science. But one shelf, just to the left of her desk, is special. It holds a pair of 3-inch-thick black binders — copies of the most important documents in Poppe's secret police files. This is her Stasi shelf...
When the wall fell, the Stasi fell with it. The new government, determined to bring to light the agency's totalitarian tactics, created a special commission to give victims access to their personal files. Poppe and her husband were among the first people in Germany allowed into the archives. On January 3, 1992, she sat in front of a cart loaded with 40 binders dedicated to "Circle 2" — her codename, it turned out. In the 16 years since, the commission has turned up 20 more Circle 2 binders on her.
The pages amounted to a minute-by-minute account of Poppe's life, seen from an unimaginable array of angles. Video cameras were installed in the apartment across the street. Her friends' bedrooms were bugged and their conversations about her added to the file. Agents investigated the political leanings of her classmates from middle school and opened all of her mail. "They really tried to capture everything," she says. "Most of it was just junk."
But some of it wasn't. And some of it ... Poppe doesn't know. No one does. Because before it was disbanded, the Stasi shredded or ripped up about 5 percent of its files. That might not sound like much, but the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There's a record for every time anyone drove across the border..."
And that was with paper. Brown and Bush have computers and the capacity to gather and draw inferences from much greater volumes of personal data. But in the case of the shredded Stasi files the computers being used to reconstruct them:
"There's no way to know what bombshells those files hide. For a country still trying to come to terms with its role in World War II and its life under a totalitarian regime, that half-destroyed paperwork is a tantalizing secret.
The machine-shredded stuff is confetti, largely unrecoverable. But in May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that after four years of work, they had completed a system to digitally tape together the torn fragments. Engineers hope their software and scanners can do the job in less than five years — even taking into account the varying textures and durability of paper, the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of printing (from handwriting to dot matrix) and the range of edges (from razor sharp to ragged and handmade.)"
Incidentally if you're interested in East German history I'd recommend Mary Fulbrook's books Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR 1949-1989: Inside the GDR, 1949-1989 and The People's State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker