Those of you who have seen the movie Minority Report (or read the original sci-fi short story) know how the concept of pre-crime is not only highly controversial and philosophically paradoxical, but also that it would virtually destroy whatever is left of our nation’s recognition of our Bill of Rights. If you’ve ever wondered how the police state creeps upon us so easily, here’s a front-row seat to observe how the process unfolds.
For those outside the loop, the concept of pre-crime involves police having the alleged ability to determine crimes that will allegedly occur in the future, plus the authority then to swoop in to make arrests before the predicted crime can occur. In the story, crimes are determined by a group of near-comatose mutants who allegedly have psychic powers, and who are connected to a powerful computer system.
Remove the alleged psychic mutants and leave the powerful computer system and, well, we’ve now got the foundations and plans for it pre-crime in our midst.
Hitatchi recently announced its “Predictive Crime Analytics (PCA)” designed to “enhance public safety through the delivery of highly accurate crime predictions.” The system is “specifically designed to advance the public safety initiatives of cities and municipalities” and this includes not only predictive analytics based on reams of information gathered from social media and other databases, but also “improved access to video data.”
Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, director of a project to create “global smart cities” by International Data Corporation, commented on the system: “Digital technologies, like those from Hitachi Data Systems, that provide real-time, aggregate and contextual data, support public safety initiatives that can transform how law enforcement and other first responder agencies locate, mitigate and prevent crimes, and ultimately make our cities safer places.”
The system is already set to be implemented in pilot programs in various US cities. One apologist for such government intrusion opines in The Wall Street Journal that “There’s no reason why gun owners, range operators and firearms dealers shouldn’t be a source of information for local police seeking information about who might merit special attention.”
He argues we should not be bothered by this because, after all, the government’s already doing it in other ways, and we are complicit with data-sharing in yet others:
Still don’t trust the government? You’re barking up an outdated tree. Consider the absurdly ancillary debate last year on whether the government should be allowed to hold telephone “metadata” when the government already holds vastly more sensitive data on all of us in the form of tax, medical, legal and census records.
All this seems doubly silly given the spacious information about each of us contained in private databases, freely bought and sold by marketers. Bizarre is the idea that Facebook should be able to use our voluntary Facebook postings to decide what we might like to buy, but police shouldn’t use the same information to prevent crime.
He states that it will soon not be optional, but a matter of obligation for civil officials: “A day will come when failing to connect the dots in advance of a mass-shooting won’t be a matter for upturned hands. It will be a matter for serious recrimination.”
How will such unimaginable tyranny be implemented upon us? You just read all the key words in the citations above: “public safety,” “law enforcement,” “prevent crimes.” Each of these ideas is as sacrosanct and immune from criticism in American dialogue as the infamous “for the children.” Pretty much anything done in the name of public safety will be very difficult to oppose, mainly because conservative American Christians are champions of all things done in the name of fighting crime and enhancing police.
You can see the public dialogue already bypassed in the apologist’s insistence that the matter will become an obligation for officials. Since these are already charged with maintaining “public safety,” there will be no debate on whether or not to do this. The only debates will be how and how much, and then how much more.
All the classic arguments to ignore and defy the Constitution will be trotted out: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This is conservatives’ version of conservation-stopping mantras like “Hand’s up, don’t shoot,” “war on women,” and “woman’s right to choose.” It’s a technique designed to subvert debate, censor necessary explanations and considerations, and lead directly to expansion of State powers to tax, surveille, intrude, invade, arrest, fine, imprison, and kill.
You’ll hear the argument that if just one mass shooting can be prevented, it’s worth the sacrifice of freedom by everyone else. Public safety requires everyone’s cooperation, after all. We’ll never know if the alleged would-be shooting actually would have happened, of course, but do you want to be the one who waits to find out and turns out wrong, even just once? Didn’t think so. So submit.
All this, if successful, will come with further immunities for the officials and officers perpetrating the implementation of “pre-crime,” and whatever it will eventually entail. It will be very difficult to prove inaccurate predictions because, of course, we’re talking about things that have not happened. And thus remedies—that is, punishments—imposed upon people targeted by predictions will be impossible to overturn in court.
It will be emotionally and systematically impossible to hold police accountable for any such failures or abuses. Accountability is a severe thing, and so it pays for the State to slant the playing field in its own favor. This is one reason police departments are already routinely refusing to hand over body-cam footage of police shootings, while allowing their own officers to view them before crafting their statements to investigators. Any complaints or criticisms from this angle will be labeled “anti-police” and tossed into the Guantanamo of public discourse.
If they prove successful in their goal, programs like Hitatchi’s trial will not come with overt criminal convictions. They will rather come with much less objectionable measures of “just in case” detention for security or therapy such as is already being done in places like Germany and France.
In the end, we cannot forget the maxim given by Benjamin Franklin, which I paraphrase: Those would exchange essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
We must understand that there is never safety in Statism. Tyranny always leads to increased violence, poverty, and injustice. To Franklin’s maxim we must add, “. . . and never will have liberty or safety, either.”
Christians must resist the temptation to find crime prevention or national security in the ill-fated “king like other nations” approach illustrated and decried in the Bible (1 Sam. 8). A horse is a vain thing for safety (Ps. 33:17). We must learn to discern the appeal to the horse in our digital age. We can only find liberty and safety in a system that honors God’s Law, despite whatever threats we perceive around us. The moment we depart from a system that honors privacy and due process, that moment we depart from God’s Law, and the natural punishments of tyranny, loss of liberty, and increased crime will begin to snowball upon us.
We must instill within ourselves a will to liberty. There is no security in society as long as individual rights and privacy are not secure. That is the great fallacy inherent in making compromises with the State. Without preparing ourselves mentally to stand for what is culturally counterintuitive and socially entrenched, we have no future but decline. Faithfulness means trusting God and sacrificing your fears, not sacrificing the freedoms of your neighbors.