Timothy Garton-Ash, one of the leading campaigners against the communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the 1980s, has a powerful article in today's Guardian comparing East Germany under the Stasi to the surveillance-on-steroids of today's UK:
"Our stalwart information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has fought a valiant battle to protect what the Germans call, with portentous profundity, the right to informational self-determination. A valiant battle, but a losing one — as the commissioner himself acknowledges. The warning that we are 'sleepwalking into a surveillance society' comes from him.
"For even as he tries to strengthen the dykes, more powerful arms of government are busy tearing them down: in the name of fighting terrorism, crime, fraud, child molestation, drugs, religious extremism, racial abuse, tax evasion, speeding, illegal parking, fly-tipping, leaving too many garbage bags outside your home, and any other 'risk' that any of those nearly 800 public (busy)bodies feels called upon to 'protect' us from. Well, thank you, nanny — but kindly eff off to East Germany. I'd rather stay a bit more free, even if means being a bit less safe."
I gave a presentation along similar lines last year at a NATO workshop (Wild West or gulag: models for policing cyberspace). One of the Russian intelligence officers present asked me what was wrong with the Stasi!