Wall Fall Part 1: Lessons On The Database State – From the Stasi

The Wall Came Tumbling Down

On Monday it will be twenty years since the government of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik finally conceded victory to the millions of massed demonstrators demanding the end of their oppressive regime and opened the gates in the Berlin Wall, presaging the fall of the Soviet Union.

While crowds streamed across the border to the West and ‘freedom’, lights burned through the night at the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit. Well, lights burned there every night, the Stasi, like New York, never slept. Also like New York this made them paranoid and creepy.

But on this night, and on every subsequent night until the evening of January 15th, 1990 when demonstrators occupied the building, the lights probably flickered as well. During this time, the Stasi officers inside had been shredding documents. By January 15, it has been estimated that they had managed to destroy 45 million pages. Reckoned to be a mere 5% of their files. Most of these files contained intimate details of the lives of the ‘citizens’ of the DDR.

Reuters carries the stories of some of those citizens, and the effects upon their lives of their Stasi files.

BERLIN (Reuters)For decades, Joachim Fritsch struggled to understand why he was being denied access to higher education and passed over for job promotions again and again.

Then he got hold of a 400-page file East Germany’s dreaded secret police had compiled on him. The Stasi had arrested him back in the mid-1950s when he was just 17 years old and branded him a “provocateur” for failing to produce his identity card.

Harsh is the regime which would brand a callow youth untouchable for life.

The First Corner Case

The Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007 – a statutory instrument enabled by Section 12 of The Children Act 2004 – established the ‘ContactPoint’ database. According to the DCSF bumf

ContactPoint is an online directory holding basic contact information for all children. The directory is designed to ensure that there is easier and faster contact between professionals who work with children.

Even a brief skim of the enabling legislation shows this to be somewhat lacking, far more information is proposed to be stored than that. For instance Section 12 of the Children Act states that the database should record, for every child on the database.

information as to the existence of any cause for concern in relation to him;

As a parliamentary committee observed when the legislation was being debated, this is “an extremely subjective and open-ended phrase which is almost bound to include very sensitive information about a child”

We couldn’t damage a child much appending the word “provocateur” to their record, in the current political climate it is practically meaningless. It has been speculated, however, that we could achieve a similar effect to that observed above by applying the epithet ‘racist’. It is, of course, mere speculation.

The Second Corner Case

Fritsch was arrested for failing to identify himself when stopped by the police.

10 yards down the street however, we were stopped by a police medic who asked what my name was.

“I’m not so sure I want to tell you that” was my first response to this question, unwilling to comply with any attempts to draw me into casual conversation.

“Look, if you’re not going to tell me your name, I’m going to arrest you and we can get your name at the station” came the not so friendly reply.

Not a quote from Herr Fritsch, but a blog post by a member of Lancaster UAF reporting their experiences attending the recent demonstration by the UAF in Leeds against members of the EDL.

Police operations on that day were being conducted under the aegis of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, “Powers to stop and search in anticipation of violence”, so by no means an ordinary set of circumstances. It should perhaps be noted that nowhere in it’s text does Section 60 give officers the power to arrest people for failing to identify themselves.

The Third Corner Case

Back to Reuters again :

Many people apply in order to prove they were unjustly imprisoned, to clear their criminal record and claim compensation for any time spent in jail.

“In a dictatorship, you don’t get any proof of what happened,” said Fritsch, who was twice imprisoned by the Stasi, and whose family distanced itself from him to escape Stasi persecution.

Fritsch, of course, had no idea why the Stasi had imprisoned him.

Up to 20 men regarded as Britain’s most dangerous terror suspects can challenge their detention after Britain’s highest court ruled that three of them had been denied a fair trial.

The men, who have been held under virtual house arrest under the Government’s control order regime, won the unanimous backing of a panel of nine law lords, on the grounds that the suspects did not know what they were accused of or what evidence was being used against them.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson called the judgment “extremely disappointing”, adding: “Protecting the public is my top priority and this judgment makes that task harder.

“Nevertheless, the Government will continue to take all steps we can to manage the threat presented by terrorism.

“All control orders will remain in force for the time being and we will continue to seek to uphold them in the courts. In the meantime, we will consider this judgement and our options carefully.

Apocalypse Now

So terrified were we of having to live under a regime such as that practised by the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit and it’s various Eastern Block contemporaries that we were prepared to engage in a nuclear war to prevent it from happening. So real was this possibility that the UK issued Civil Defence advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear war.

As previously mentioned on this blog, even a limited nuclear exchange would have utterly devastating consequences, and not just for those directly involved.

Even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more, with environmental effects that could be devastating for everyone on Earth, university researchers have found.

Hyperbole ?

Could be, couldn’t it ? All the above listed similarities are, of course, corner cases, they involve the intersection of emotive things like child protection, racism and national security.

Tomorrow, in Wall Fall Part 2, I’ll take a closer look at the kinds of information that the Stasi collected and used for political control, and some of the ways they went about collecting it. Then we can ask the question again : “Is this just hyperbole ?”


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