As in Philip K. Dick, author of the short story “Minority Report”, which got made into a very unfor­tu­nate movie of the same title.*

Before we start get­ting smirk­ily self-​​righteous about the fact that it’s hap­pen­ing in England, let’s remem­ber that it’s our nation which keeps redefin­ing the pur­pose — indeed, the tar­get — of our eter­nal war; it is our nation which has double-​​spoken itself into a Stalinesque night­mare wherein habeas cor­pus is sus­pended for any­one declared an enemy com­bat­ant … and that any­one, once declared an enemy com­bat­ant, can­not use habeas laws to prove him– or her­self a cit­i­zen and there­fore enti­tled to full Constitutional protection.

I’m refer­ring to a very dis­turb­ing arti­cle from Seed. Seems poten­tial crim­i­nals are now to be tar­geted for recon­nai­sance and pos­si­ble arrest … before they actu­ally com­mit any crimes.

LONDON (AFP)—British crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gists are putting together a list of the 100 most dan­ger­ous mur­der­ers and rapists before they have com­mit­ted any such crimes, The Times said.

The pro­files are assem­bled, in part, by inter­view­ing acquain­tances of the pos­si­ble law­break­ers, includ­ing for­mer rela­tion­ship part­ners — surely an unbi­ased source of totally fac­tual infor­ma­tion about any given person’s emo­tional sta­bil­ity. No ex, in the his­tory of human rela­tion­ships, has ever over­stated the foibles, faults or insta­bil­i­ties in his or her for­mer partner’s per­son­al­ity, par­tic­u­larly not in the hope that s/​he might even be able to obtain some vic­ar­i­ous revenge imag­ing­ing the ex being tailed, ques­tioned, end­lessly harrassed.

If this is mak­ing you worry, but you’re not sure why, it’s because the alarm bells are mostly silenced now. This is the adult ver­sion of what hap­pens when a high school stu­dent writes a poem — a poem assigned by his teacher — and finds him­self suspended.

Is it sen­si­ble to allow known law­break­ers to just wan­der about, unmon­i­tored, react­ing only after they’ve killed, raped, beaten? Naturally not.

But the Brit pro­gram isn’t strictly about track­ing known crim­i­nals; they’re look­ing for poten­tial crim­i­nals, for peo­ple who might con­ceiv­ably com­mit a vio­lent crime at some point in the future, but who haven’t just yet. That this tech­ni­cally includes every­one doesn’t seem to daunt them too much, at least not right now.

The team is cur­rently focussing on indi­vid­u­als who could turn from domes­tic vio­lence to mur­der, based on data that shows that about 25 per­cent of all mur­ders are related to domes­tic vio­lence, the news­pa­per said.

(Strictly speak­ing, mur­der is more vio­lent than domes­tic vio­lence, but in many cases it could be a very fine distinction.)

The invid­i­ous nature of this sur­veil­lance is that is seems so sen­si­ble, so ratio­nal. Here we are, hon­estly and utterly sin­cere in our desires to pro­tect the inno­cent — and pro­fil­ing and behav­ioral mod­el­ing are just a few of the many tools in our arse­nal. All we’re really out to do is save pos­si­ble vic­tims of future crimes, that’s all.

And what do they do when they think they have a perp on the move? Pick him up just before he knocks on his alleged target’s door?

If this didn’t seem so much like dystopian sce­nar­ios I’ve read and seen so often that they’ve become cliché, it would be hor­ri­fy­ing. As it is, I’m too jaded to be sur­prised. What’s next, of course, is wire­tap­ping, email inter­cep­ton and sur­veil­lance made easy through the cam­eras rigged all over London. One imag­ines it’s just a mat­ter of time before turn­ing off one’s tele­vi­sion becomes impos­si­ble, and then illegal.

Of course we can argue that, more and more, we’re a world divest­ing itself of pri­vacy any­way, both in terms of data that gets gath­ered about us which we wish didn’t; and data that we actively present about our­selves, as with blogs. However, the will­ing­ness to be pub­lic about some aspects of our lives does not trans­late into a right for the rest of the world to know every­thing; and in any case, arrest­ing or detain­ing some­one for think­ing about com­mit­ting a crime is, lit­er­ally, an Orwellian proposition.

Under the Brit idea, pri­vate lives will become, instead, shame­ful lives; and that is patho­log­i­cal. We may all live in fish­bowls of a sort; but god­damn it, every fish­bowl has to face at least one blank wall, doesn’t it?


* Don’t hold it against him. The story was good; the film sucked camel balls. Another movie made from one of his sto­ries was Blade Runner, and that’s one I’m going to fea­ture some­day in Why Culture Sucks, because it’s a really, really good movie.


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