Computers piece together millions of shredded Stasi documents





A moving and intriguing Wired feature tells the story of the activists, hackers and engineers who are working to un-shred millions of hand-shredded secret files that the East German Stasi ripped to pieces in the run-up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The secret police panicked when they realized that they were about to lose their tight rein on power and shredded as much as they could -- but they had collected more files than any other bureaucracy in the history of the world, and they couldn't shred fast enough. So they assigned a detail to go into the basement, into a secure, copper-lined computing room, and hand-tear the most sensitive documents, all day long, millions of them.

The liberators of the Stasi's archive saved the hand-shredded material and now computer scientists are working to piece it all back together, using clever algorithms reminiscent of the systems described in Vernor Vinge's groundbreaking novel Rainbows End. The description of the files themselves are incredible -- one activist had sixty binders compiled on her, comprising every movement she took (she was followed constantly by crew-cut secret police in white vans who'd crawl the curb a few metres behind her as she walked down the street).


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