The File, By Timothy Garton Ash

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The Independent Culture

First published in 1997, Garton Ash's exploration of his Stasi file has the mesmeric potency of a Le Carré novel. Since that time, "Stasi" has been adopted as a common expression for state observation.

In a new afterword, he insists that this application "in the context of civil liberties" is misplaced in the UK: "Everyone understands, unless... very stupid or paranoid, that Britain is not a Stasi state." Yet he concedes that in covert surveillance technology, few liberal democracies have gone "so far and so fast" as Britain.

The File reveals what an intrusive state managed to record without CCTV: "In the upper station concourse, [Garton Ash] greeted a female person with handshake and kiss on the cheek... They took seats in the café and drank coffee." Twelve years on, "if the Stasi now serves as a warning ghost... it will have done some good after all." CH