"Stasi, official name Ministerium für Staatsicherheit (German: “Ministry for State Security”), secret police agency of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Stasi was one of the most hated and feared institutions of the East German communist government."
"Within East Germany it sought to infiltrate every institution of society and every aspect of daily life, including even intimate personal and familial relationships. It accomplished this goal both through its official apparatus and through a vast network of informants and unofficial collaborators (inoffizielle Mitarbeiter), who spied on and denounced colleagues, friends, neighbours, and even family members." [Stasi (East German government)].
During the cold war Germany was divided East-West with the East controlled and repressed by the Soviet government and the West dominated by the US. East Germany's surveillance of its citizens was not merely imposed because of the struggle between the two great powers. East Germany's fall to the ever watchful eyes of the Stasi was a cooperative, if not collaborative, endeavor.
"Informants were made to feel important, given material or social incentives, and were imbued with a sense of adventure, and only around 7.7%, according to official figures, were coerced into cooperating. [....] A large number of Stasi informants were trolley conductors, janitors, doctors, nurses and teachers; Mielke believed the best informants were those whose jobs entailed frequent contact with the public."
"Spies reported every relative or friend who stayed the night at another's apartment. Tiny holes were drilled in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed citizens with special video cameras. Schools, universities, and hospitals were extensively infiltrated." [Stasi].
Spouses spied on each other. "People were imprisoned for such reasons as trying to leave the country, or telling political jokes. Prisoners were kept isolated and disoriented, knowing nothing of what was going on in the outside world."
I have been heavy on quotes from other material because the story has been accurately told by others. And, because it seems that using the words of others tells the story without any manipulation.
Today ordinary citizens are happily giving up all rights of privacy and voluntarily subjecting themselves to tracking by other citizens and business, and in turn, by government. Two recent articles bring that home. See my posts: The government knows; Government is listening - but don't worry, it's too late.
It is important for those who have the attitude - if you are not doing anything wrong . . . . It isn't what you are doing that is right or wrong it is what others determine is right or wrong. And who the others are is important when they are the government.
Thus the victims of the Stasi spying were not doing anything wrong in their eyes, but they were perceived as enemies of the state based upon perceptions of others who often had a personal ax to grind. Something similar happened in the US during the cold war period where people were treated as enemies of the state based upon hearsay and information volunteered by those with personal vendettas. McCarthyism.
"McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism."
The fear that was capitalized upon by people like Senator Joe McCarthy was communism. It may seem odd now especially given that communist China is such an economic powerhouse and US citizens are great consumers of Chinese products. Made in the USA has been replaced by Made in China. But the label of being a communist in the 50s cost many their jobs. See Hollywood blacklist.
The private information available today about US citizens pales in consideration to that collected by the Stasi. A BBC article states that 16,000 sack loads of documents (remember this was before computers as we know them today) was gathered after the fall of East Germany regime. Just how much cloud space might one guess that those documents would consume? And just how much easier it is today to troll and sort through the data available via the Internet?
Without the intention, technology has without opposition created the largest personal database - the Internet - that would have only been a glimmer in Stasi's eyes. And today the new fear is terrorism. American citizens are to be subjected to summary execution without due process.
Whatever the good intentions, the government is only a step, or two, away from a totalitarian state. While the government today is relatively benign - the real fear ought to be government waging undeclared wars and sacrificing constitutional rights in the name of fighting the new fear - terrorism.
The fear of terrorism is easing the way to totalitarianism.