In the film Minority Report, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, police of the future arrest criminals before the crime even occurs based on three psychics who can predict the future. All seems to be going well until the captain of the police force is seen committing a murder thirty six hours later and he suspects that he is being set up by his colleagues. I couldn’t help but think of this story when I read about the New York Police Department plans to start a new system to track crime that will be practically all seeing and all knowing.
It will be a rather frightening combination of video surveillance and the city’s law enforcement database and I imagine that it will be used by the police to check up on people who appear to be doing things that are even remotely off, to see if they have any sort of criminal past. If they do, perhaps then would be the time that the police send a squad nearby — you know, just in case something begins to happen.
At the present moment there are at least three thousand surveillance eyes around New York City, watching and never blinking — the information gathered from these cameras will be used to stop crime if it is happening, but might it be used to prevent crime from happening? I am a bit disappointed that crime rates have not dropped more than they have given how many eyes are out there, watching our every move. I suppose the problem is that if a person is hungry and desperate enough, there aren’t enough eyes in the world to stop that person from stealing a crust of bread to get through the day.
I am concerned that the future of police work will not lay in fighting actual crime but in trying to apprehend criminals before they have done anything wrong and this could lead the police department down a dark hall of litigation from which it may never escape. Lawsuit after lawsuit will pound the police and though they might point to various places where they successfully used their new technology to stop a crime from happening, it only takes one mistaken arrest of a completely innocent person to turn the public perception against you. I hope this is not the path we ultimately take but every new Panopticonic technology that is released seems to confirm that it is.