Law enforcement agencies in Washington D.C. have begun to use technology that they say can predict when crimes will be committed and who will commit them, before they actually happen.
The pre-crime software has been developed by Richard Berk, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Previous incarnations of the software, already being used in Baltimore and Philadelphia were limited to predictions of murders by and among parolees and offenders on probation.
According to a report by ABC News, however, the latest version, to be implemented in Washington D.C., can predict other future crimes as well.
“When a person goes on probation or parole they are supervised by an officer. The question that officer has to answer is ‘what level of supervision do you provide?'” Berk told ABC News, intimating that the program could have a bearing on the length of sentences and/or bail amounts.
The technology sifts through a database of thousands of crimes and uses algorithms and different variables, such as geographical location, criminal records and ages of previous offenders, to come up with predictions of where, when, and how a crime could possibly be committed and by who.
The program operates without any direct evidence that a crime will be committed, it simply takes datasets and computes possibilities.
“People assume that if someone murdered then they will murder in the future,” Berk also states, “But what really matters is what that person did as a young individual. If they committed armed robbery at age 14 that’s a good predictor. If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn’t predict very much.”
Critics have urged that the program encourages categorizing individuals on a risk scale via computer mathematics, rather than on real life, and that monitoring those people based on such a premise is antithetic to a justice system founded on the premise of the presumption of innocence.
Other police departments and law agencies across the country have begun to look into and use similar predictive technologies. The Memphis Police Department, for example uses a program called Operation Blue CRUSH, which uses predictive analytics developed by IBM.
Other forms of pre-crime technology in use or under development include surveillance cameras that can predict when a crime is about to occur and alert police, and even neurological brain scanners that can read people’s intentions before they act, thus
detecting whether or not a person has “hostile intent”.
It is not too far fetched to imagine all these forms of the technology being used together in the future by law enforcement bodies.
The British government has previously debated introducing pre-crime laws in the name of fighting terrorism. The idea was that suspects would be put on trial using MI5 or MI6 intelligence of an expected terror attack. This would be enough to convict if found to be true “on the balance of probabilities”, rather than “beyond reasonable doubt”.
The government even has plans to collect lifelong records on all residents starting at the age of five, in order to screen for those who might be more likely to commit crimes in the future.
Another disturbing possibility for such technology comes in the form of a financial alliance of sorts between Internet search engine giant Google and the investment arm of the CIA and the wider U.S. intelligence network.
Google and In-Q-Tel have recently injected a sum of up to $10 million each into a company called Recorded Future, which uses analytics to scour Twitter accounts, blogs and websites for all sorts of information, which is used to “assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
The company describes its analytics as “the ultimate tool for open-source intelligence” and says it can also “predict the future”.
Recorded Future takes in vast amounts of personal information such as employment changes, personal education and family relations. Promotional material also shows categories covering pretty much everything else, including entertainment, music and movie releases, as well as other innocuous things like patent filings and product recalls.
Those detached from any kind of moral reality will say “If you’ve got nothing to hide then what is the problem with being scanned for pre-crime? If it keeps us all safe from murderers, rapists and terrorists I’m all for it”.
How far towards a literal technological big brother police state will we slip before people wake up to the fact?