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Software reconstructs shredded German Stasi files

German scanner and software process reconstructs thousands of shredded paper files.

Think shredding paper is a good way to hide printed information? Think again. German officials who faced the daunting task of reconstructing thousands of bags of shredded paper containing secret files left behind by the former East German Stasi have turned to computer software for help.

According to an article on Speigel Online International, the paper was shredded in 1989 about the time of the fall of the Berlin wall when human rights activists were able to scoop up 16,250 black garbage bags of paper scraps. By 2000, the contents for no more than 323 bags had been reconstructed by 15 volunteers. At a cost of estimated to run up to 30 million euros, the new scanner and software process is designed to perform the task of reassembling thousands of shreds at one time, a process experts had estimated would take 30 humans working roughly 600 to 800 years to complete.

The shreds are first scanned, front and back, then specially designed software rearranges the digitized fragments according to shape, texture, ink color, handwriting style and recognizable official stamps. Lurking within the paper mess are thought to be the identities of East Germans who spied on other East Germans.