More on Smell Samples
The Stasi secret police used scent gathering in Communist East Germany, collecting smells in empty jam jars and storing them. The method has reminded Germans of that failed regime of snoopers, and was highlighted in the recent Oscar-winning film “The Lives of Others” about a Stasi surveillance officer.
The domestic policy spokesman for the Social Democrat Party, Dieter Wiefelspütz, finds the new weapon “pretty bizarre.” But he knows that unappetising though it may be, the method has been employed by German investigators for a long time.
In legal terms, recording someone’s body odour is no different than taking their finger prints. It’s covered by the criminal statue book. The scent contains a person’s identity just like the lines of his finger tips or his DNA.
Taking someone’s DNA is subject to strict conditions but the law permits finger printing and scent recording whenever police deem it necessary as part of a criminal investigation—which means virtually always. Erhard Denninger, an expert on Germany’s justice system, has no problem with scent analysis. “It’s harmless by comparison with sledgehammer plans like searching people’s computers,” he said.
Suspects are told to hold several 10 centimeter steel pipes in succession for several minutes each.
There are strict rules governing this procedure. The interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has decreed that “persons must contaminate the metal tubes through their hands”, and that the aromatic traces thereby recorded “be secured in glass containers in dry condition.”
It sounds harmless. But a number of defence lawyers, Düsseldorf-based Udo Vetter among them, advise their clients not to agree to scent recording. If the state sniffs the sweat of its citizens, it amounts to a “considerable intrusion into one’s intimate sphere,” he says.
The complexity of collecting someone’s scent is the theme of Patrick Süskind’s novel “Perfume”, recently made into a movie, in which an 18th century murderer wraps beautiful women in cloths which he later boils. Unlike in real life, the perfume specialist chose to kill his victims before taking their scent.