When the word Schleierfahndung first began to be used, I tried to pin down its meaning for a translation (I don’t seem to have blogged it, though – this was in the mid-90s, which predates the blog).
The phenomenon seems similar to ‘stop and search’ – stopping and searching people although there is no reason to suspect them. There have been calls for it to be extended since border controls were removed in the Schengen area (which now comprises 26 European countries, not all in the EU, but not the UK and Ireland).
How the word – literally ‘veil search’ – was coined I am not sure.

Neusprech has now taken up the term. It refers to something called ein Verdachtsschleier – a veil of suspicion. The typical search takes place after vehicles have been seen crossing the border and are followed and stopped inside the border.

Das ist eine Suche auf gut Glück, bei der Menschen gerne allein deswegen schikaniert werden, weil sie fremd aussehen und bei der jeder zum Verdächtigen wird. Der Ausdruck S. lässt dabei offen, ob hier Bösewichte entschleiert, oder ob umstrittene Überwachungen verschleiert werden sollen. Die Fakten sprechen für das Letztere. Denn die S. hat weder etwas mit Fahndung noch mit Schleiern zu tun und vernebelt, dass hier Menschen grundlos durchsucht und ihrer Freiheit beraubt werden.

It’s sometimes translated by the term dragnet, but that means searching a large area thoroughly searching for one particular person. It appears the word dragnet reminded some translators of the word Schleierfahndung, but it doesn’t work like that!

More in the Alternatives Wörterbuch:

Herkunft: gegen Ende des 20. Jh. vom Frankfurter Strafverteidiger und Bürgerrechtler Dr. Sebastian Cobler geprägter Begriff; Schleier: Bed. in diesem Zusammenhang ungeklärt, wohl von der Idee her, dass keine spezifische Fahndung, sondern eine Art verdeckte oder eben „verschleierte“ Fahndung in Form einer allgemeinen Fahndung durchgeführt wird {Spek. FAL}; Fahndung: in der Bed. von „polizeiliche Suche nach Verdächtigen“, zu fanden, wohl aus dem Niederdeutschen, von mniederd. vanden = aufsuchen, besuchen

2 thoughts on “Schleierfahndung

  1. This happened to me once a few years ago taking a ride-share in a van from Prague to Berlin. Though we did have all our passports in order, we handed over quite an array of them: Cameroonian, Russian, Czech, German, French and American. The border agent then greeted us in various languages as he handed them back, with a bemused smile.

    As for the term, what about “targeted border searching”? (At least in that context.)

    • This is not really at the border or by border agents, but usually attempts to establish the identity of/search people en route – in a train, on the motorway. I suppose the suspicious objects people may have on them are often smuggled goods, but could be weapons. I like ‘stop and search’ because I know it from the way the police often stopped and searched black people before the Brixton riots in London in the 80s. It’s also not really targeted. The definition is usually ‘verdachtsunabh

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