Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation, authored an interesting article at Information Liberation on the East German secret police. They collected “harmless metadata” too, but didn’t have anywhere near the power of our own NSA.
The East German secret police, known as the Stasi, were an infamously intrusive secret police force. They amassed dossiers on about one quarter of the population of the country during the Communist regime.
But their spycraft — while incredibly invasive — was also technologically primitive by today’s standards. While researching my book Dragnet Nation, I obtained the above hand drawn social network graph and other files from the Stasi Archive in Berlin, where German citizens can see files kept about them and media can access some files, with the names of the people who were monitored removed.
The graphic shows forty-six connections, linking a target to various people (an “aunt,” “Operational Case Jentzsch,” presumably Bernd Jentzsch, an East German poet who defected to the West in 1976), places (“church”), and meetings (“by post, by phone, meeting in Hungary”).
Gary Bruce, an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo and the author of “The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi,” helped me decode the graphic and other files. I was surprised at how crude the surveillance was. “Their main surveillance technology was mail, telephone, and informants,” Bruce said.