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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