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The Baying of the Hounds

Headspace: How the state is leading us by the nose

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The essential guide to IT transformation

"She went in to visit him in Belmarsh prison. She was sat in the waiting room when the guards walked a sniffer dog past the line of waiting visitors. The dog barked at her and another woman who were then taken into another room. They were told to wait there for female officers to arrive who could search them." She took a bite of quiche between drags. "Anyway, they were in there waiting for a while before the other woman turned to speak to her. "I'm worried," she said, "I don't have anything on me but I do have my period." "So do I," replied my client's wife. "Isn't it embarrassing?" Interesting huh? Neither of them had drugs on them but both were menstruating and the dog singled them out." "That is interesting. It hadn't occurred to me that the dogs weren't reliable. I've been too wound up about their use in the first place. I mean, since when do the police have a mandate to sniff around in the hope of finding something chargeable? And what about privacy? What's more personal than the way I smell?"

"Have you read Ana Funder's Stasiland?" she asked.

"No. What is it?"

"It's a book about the Stasi."

"Which is what?"

"The Stasi was the secret police in East Germany. Its objective was total control of the population and its means was to know everything about everyone. They turned the German Democratic Republic – I think that's what it was called – into a police state. Everyone living there was terrified of being spied on, informed upon or arrested. The police had a file on everyone." Tracy took another drag on her cigarette and exhaled pensively. "It was weird the information they collected. They used it to intimidate people. They scared the crap out of one girl by telling her that they knew her little sister wanted to study music at college. I think they implied they could put a stop to it or something. Anyway, I can't remember what there is on sniffing in her book, but there is something."

I purchased a copy the next day. In the first chapter, Ana Funder visits the Stasi museum, located in the former headquarters of the Stasi in Leipzig.

The Stasi had developed a quasi-scientific method, 'smell sampling', as a way to find criminals. The theory was that we all have our own identifying odour, which we leave on everything we touch. These smells can be captured and, with the help of trained sniffer dogs, compared to find a match. . .

Mostly, smell samples were collected surreptitiously. The Stasi might sneak into someone's apartment and take a piece of clothing worn close to the skin, often underwear. Alternatively a 'suspect' would be brought in under some pretext for questioning, and the vinyl seat he or she had sat on would be wiped afterward with a cloth. The pieces of stolen clothing, or cloth, would then be placed in a sealed jar. The containers looked like jam bottling jars. A label read: "Name: Herr [Name]. Time: 1 hour. Object: Worker's Underpants."

Leipzig Stasi had collected smell samples of the entire political opposition in this part of Saxony. No-one knows who has these scraps of material and old socks now, nor what they might be keeping them for.

If nothing else, this was material for a viable conspiracy theory on the common problem of disappearing socks. I wondered if the UK authorities had been aware of the Stasi work and whether the increasing number of dogs on our streets was somehow related. I also wondered who had the missing Stasi samples.

The essential guide to IT transformation

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