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[liberationtech] Swedish press question: How does surveillance change the citizen's behavior?

carlo von lynX lynX at
Wed Dec 11 07:00:27 PST 2013

On Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 01:54:31PM +0100, Anders Thoresson wrote:
> I'm thankful for any pointers.

You get dozens of interesting links like
if you startpage for "surveillance GDR" for example.

Let me cite some lines from

    "There were a variety of things that could bring a person to the attention of the Stasi. Once the Stasi had targeted a suspect the goal was often to engender self-doubt in that person, to prevent them from living any semblance of a normal life, and if indeed they were guilty of some form of 'subversion,'  to encourage them to further implicate and discredit themselves" [...] "the Stasi undermined their targets' self-confidence and peace of mind, rather than physically beating them. Although physical coercion was employed by the Stasi, the evidence indicates that they often preferred to utilise more 'subtle' (but equally effective) means of psychological torture. Isolation, sleep deprivation, disorientation, humiliation, restriction of food and water and ominous threats against the subject and their families combined with promises of leniency if they 'confessed' were all commonly cited interrogation tactics. The Stasi was not concerned with human rights and paid no more than lip service to the notion of a democratic legal process and legitimate trials, as illustrated by the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, who maintained a policy of: 'Execution, if necessary without a court verdict.'

Doesn't sound so historic, does it?

    "For the police state to function fully however, participation from amongst the populace was key. Their vital tool here was to be the Inofizelle Mitarbeiter (I.M). IMs were unofficial collaborators who informed on work colleagues, friends, and even their own spouses. Informers were a part of everyday life, supplying the Stasi with the banal trivialities that they deemed necessary to neutralise their targets. During the lifespan of the communist regime in East Germany it is estimated from existing archival material that there were up to 500,000 informers active at various times. Or more starkly one in 30 of the population had worked for the Stasi by the fall of the GDR."

    "The people of East Germany were browbeaten by the Stasi's propagation of fear, its far reaching tentacles spread through society in the form of informers hidden in plain sight. Any person deemed of particular interest had a Stasi file which would contain an almost minute-by-minute account of the suspect's life, from which the Stasi could create any motive for action they deemed necessary"

So let's look at the differences between Stasi and NSA:

- If the data the NSA collects were kept on paper in folders in drawers
  it would take up roughly a continent in space. That is quite a lot
  more than the Stasi ever kept in its buildings.

- The NSA usually doesn't make use of the data. It just sits there,
  still the last phrase from the citations makes sense:
  "... from which [they] could create any motive for action they deemed necessary"
  Italians would say, the NSA holds any single inhabitant of Earth
  by his balls or her ovaries.

- Since the NSA isn't making many people *feel* their activity
  you cannot expect a change of behaviour similar to how the GDR
  population changed its habits over 40 years of surveillance.

In the Stasi days people would go for a walk in the woods to have
an actual private conversation, and were still risking of bumping
into a wiretapped tree. Today it takes incredible amount of self-
discipline to not speak freely in a mailing list like I am doing
just now, because I have never been "punished" for doing so. But
I am starting to get afraid that one day I will.

It makes NO SENSE to me to be asking for CURRENT surveys on how
people are changing their habits. The majority is still pretending
nothing changed, as thinking about the truth would probably get them
depressed. Changing habits currently means giving up mobile telephony
and the use of the Internet for private communications. Just talk of
trivialities and hope they won't be useful for building a case against
you anyhow. Go for a walk in the woods and leave your devices at

Maybe you can make such a survey in five or ten years, but right
now people are too shocked to give reasonable feedback. That's
why I suggest you look up the history of surveillance, considering
that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so the good
intentions of the NSA aren't helpful for anyone. Their own children
will be harmed by the work they are doing.

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