Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Precrime
June 21, 2002 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Precrime: Now that the movie is out, and given the similarity of the movie's pretext to our current situation, the phrase Minority Report is rapidly becoming a cliché. But those vividly aware of the implications of current policy seem hesitant to condemn it — Spielberg himself is "on the president's side in this instance" and Dahlia Lithwick concludes her article with the declaration that "We need a Bureau of Precrime." Are the merits of precrime more weighty than the drawbacks? Is "innocent until proven guilty" becoming an outdated concept?
posted by grrarrgh00 (41 comments total)

 
If this feels like vaguely covered ground here on MeFi, it is. But we seem to have danced all around the issue of preemptive action while never discussing the issue itself. If this thread goes anywhere, I hope it won't be a discussion of the internal politics of the Bush administration, the truth behind the Cold War, or Ebert's merits as a film critic. There are obvious ties here to Clinton and Wag the Dog, but the stakes appear to be higher at the moment, implicating not only our policies, but our values and ideals.

For what it's worth, I'm a bit frightened. It seems to me that the government is rapidly taking strides to supersede the limits placed on them over decades, maybe centuries, of democratic experimentation. And furthermore, from this vantage point, the benefits we have reaped from these actions do not seem so clear. Many of us are possibly more afraid of both terrorism and the government now than we were immediately after September 11th. At a time when I look to our leaders to assuage my fears, they have only compounded them, with both their warnings and their deeds. And now, the activities of the government grow ever more abstract. We are forced to accept that they are forestalling ends about which we cannot know, increasingly large and ephemeral dangers of bombs constructed out of materials that don't exist … yet. And I wonder, what do we value more, making sure that Jose Padilla gets a fair trial, or making sure that he never harms anyone, if and when that is in the cards?

I also hope that those folks who go see the movie will weigh in with their reflections. It's supposed to be rather spectacular and thought-provoking. I'm watching it at 8:30 tonight.

More thoughts: [1 2 3] (all logins metafilter/metafilter)
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:07 AM on June 21, 2002


umm, it's a movie. the 'pretext' fits 'better' in other antecedents like CAPBOM, or counter-intel programs of the 60's and 70's. This movie concept is like 'remote viewing' meets the Mod-squad. or edgar cayce meets j edger hoover.
posted by clavdivs at 11:20 AM on June 21, 2002


I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that another Philip K. Dick short-story manages to capture our attention 44 years after it was first published. But then the role of the police state in perceived reality is the staple of his work, even in the more mass-media adaptions of his novels and short fiction.

Recommended follow-up after hitting Minority Reports in the theater tonight? Head to your local indie video store and rent a copy of "The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick"
posted by bclark at 11:25 AM on June 21, 2002


re : Our current situation.
[Is "innocent until proven guilty" becoming an outdated concept?]

These people are still "innocent until proven guilty". Looks more like a redefinition of Habeas Corpus rights than anything else.
posted by revbrian at 11:30 AM on June 21, 2002


I think there's a legitimate claim to secrecy when dealing with the terrorist threat. You don't want to handicap yourself by exposing your methods of investigation. At the same time I think there definitely needs to be more democratic oversight of the military detainment procedures, and more open challenges to the Bush administration's whole "we're in a war, but our opponents are not soldiers" and "we won't formally declare war but we expect all the executive authority of such" shuck and jive.

It would probaby also help if John Ashcroft weren't such a bizarre creep.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2002


Behind the Scenes: The Minority Report Trailer Not safe for people drinking beverages that may enter their nasal passages.
posted by srboisvert at 11:43 AM on June 21, 2002


It would probaby also help if John Ashcroft weren't such a bizarre creep.

Not so bizarre. Assume, for a moment, that Ashcroft has been charged by the president to deflect and concretize criticism from the left away from the President, thereby moving the focus of press and public scrutiny away from the man who is making decisions and is *elected* rather than appointed.

Hmmm....
posted by UncleFes at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2002


'we're in a war, but our opponents are not soldiers" and "we won't formally declare war but we expect all the executive authority of such" shuck and jive.'

It would probaby also help if John Ashcroft weren't such a bizarre creep"


rather like the cold war yes?

'bizarre creep' as opposed to a stable creep?
posted by clavdivs at 11:53 AM on June 21, 2002


the man who is making decisions and is *elected* rather than appointed — UncleFes

Dick Cheney?
posted by nicwolff at 12:12 PM on June 21, 2002


grrarrgh00 : you are my hero with the alt tag mouseovers =) it should be a standard here at MeFi!
posted by Satapher at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2002


No, I think he was talking about Al Gore.
*ducks*
posted by LionIndex at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2002


Fes, I understand your point, we've been over this before. But I think the fact that Ashcroft is creepy is separate from, but is only buttressed by, his apparent disdain for due process.

'bizarre creep' as opposed to a stable creep?

Yes. Cheney, for example, is a creep. But he's your run of the mill creep. Ashcroft takes it to the next level.

Okay, didn't mean to derail the thread.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:23 PM on June 21, 2002


I just saw the movie, and it is pretty fantastic. I am surprised none of you linked the
Precrime website.
posted by McBain at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2002


1. srboisvert's link is hilarious. Check it out.

2. Happily and unhappily, I don't think that Jose Padilla's precrime treatment is a sign of things to come- its an anomalous political move. I think The Onion said it best in their fake survey about the dirty bomb threat:

"That's so awesome that the government stopped a would-be terrorist. And right when they're reeling from criticism about that stuff. It's like fate! A magical cosmic symmetry!"
posted by gsteff at 12:42 PM on June 21, 2002


While Spielberg may support President Bush now, according to this ABCNews story, Spielberg seems to be concerned of long-term ramifications: "Once you get that machine going it is a dilemma, because we need it, and yet on the other hand, I don't even think the public realizes ultimately what they're going to be giving up in terms of their personal freedom."

Spielberg also states: "Big Brother is watching us now and what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in 20 or 30 years, because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families."
posted by quam at 12:44 PM on June 21, 2002


The three streams of thought this produces are: 'Innocent until proved guilty' refers to the state of mind of the jury/tribunal, not what preceeds, which is why most people charged with murder although 'presumed innocent' are not allowed out on bail. 'Pre-crime' I believe in the CS refers to the conspiracy phase which, by the way is the hardest crime to defend yourself against since you really have to *prove* you are innocent. The suspension of Habeas Corpus and other rights we take for granted has been used in times of national emergency by 'great leaders' such as Abraham Lincoln and FDR. I expect it will get worse before it gets better.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:48 PM on June 21, 2002


Ty, you labeled Ashcroft correct, weren't such a bizarre creep"
I think of my grandmother, "now spike, when are you going to have kids?
By the way you don't have to take all your clothes off to have sex, that's nasty." Bless her soul.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2002


"Big Brother is watching us now and what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in 20 or 30 years, because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families"

this is why he's just a director. to facilitate the monitoring of many millions would almost take hundreds of thousands to do such work. as far as new tech?, new tech has been used for surveillance and monitoring for years. (see Wrights book, 'Spycatcher') so his complaint is about the ease of surveillance, not the amount of.
posted by clavdivs at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2002


Great links, grrarrgh00. But I think Lithwick's declaration that "We need a Bureau of Precrime" was a bit tongue in cheek. The main point is in the preceding paragraph:

"Most of us can agree that releasing people with knowledge of, or connections to, acts of terror against the United States is a national security disaster. But can we also agree that holding them in military prisons, without any means of testing the evidence against them, based on the bare assertion that they are or know terrorists is equally troubling? We need some new system to handle suspected terrorists, outside the standard criminal and military paradigms that have proven a worse fit with each successive case. We need some forward-looking system, based on the likelihood of future danger."

I basically agree with this. We are in uncharted territory and need to develop a novel but balanced approach to these cases. I liked this idea from the USNews article:

"The Bush administration proposes treating individuals believed to be members of a terrorist organization–like Padilla–as enemy soldiers and detaining them so they can do no harm. The challenge, though, is to make sure civil rights aren't abused. One possible solution, says Tribe, would be to permit federal judges to review the military's reasons for holding an individual."

Ideas like this are a good, balanced start. My biggest concern is whether the Bush administration will be at all receptive to suggestions like these. So far they have treated the Judiciary and, in Padilla's case, even the Constitution itself with a degree of contempt I find disturbing.
posted by homunculus at 1:26 PM on June 21, 2002


Heh. Tom Tomorrow is collecting examples of "precrime" meme in political columns (and that post was at least a day after I first got googled on the search term "padilla minority report").
posted by dhartung at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2002


the monitoring of many millions would almost take hundreds of thousands to do such work

Don't you think that the many millions that have access to the Internet would peer into every space they could possibly peer into were the technology given to them? I note that spycam spam is more prevalent than almost any other type of spam--porn being the exception--that passes through my ISP's mail server.

When everyone/thing can do it, you'll abstract the fact that your smart house is monitoring you at all times. It would become sort of like making love in front of a housepet. It's a little weird the first time, but then you get used to it and eventually don't even think about it anymore.

However, you don't have to go down that path very far before you realize that a whole bunch of us would be willing to sacrifice our rights to privacy for the sake of convenience.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:36 PM on June 21, 2002


why does all of this government monitoring and "guilty until proven innocent"/ "pre-crime" talk sound so familiar...

oh that's right.

i find the first line especially thought- provoking:

"Nothing is efficient in Oceania except the Thought Police."
posted by ronv at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2002


Don't you think that the many millions that have access to the Internet would peer into every space they could possibly peer into were the technology given to them?

agree to a degree. but the internet as a monitoring tool by even your best "hackers" is akin to string and tin cans to microwave burst transmitters. The real cool monitoring devices are not available to 'us'. Having my neighbor tap into my phone line is not very effective in the long run as per say the feds. To have the neighbor tell the feds "clavdivs is reading disinfo politics and has a AK-47 and a friend named Ahmed" is not regarded highly by the feds as this is an illegal act. Remember, "they" are looking for terrorist activity not to find your poRn and pot.
what i think most are concerned with is the government asking the neighbor or even employing the neighbor to spy. The Nazis set up the 'Gau' system within German society. A strict hierarchy was established from block leaders up to the Gauleiter (sic sp). a whole system of informants from the street level on up. Now this worked because of FEAR. Fear of having some idiot even "thinking" your doing something bad which really is not anything to fear in the first place within a democratic society. (free speech, right to bear arms etc.) Though the pot thing could get one investigated.

besides who are the internet 'peers' going to take this info too.
posted by clavdivs at 1:56 PM on June 21, 2002


i find the first line especially thought- provoking:

"Nothing is efficient in Oceania except the Thought Police


It would be efficient by it's nature because in Oceania everyone is part big brother inc. to begin with.
posted by clavdivs at 1:58 PM on June 21, 2002


before you realize that a whole bunch of us would be willing to sacrifice our rights to privacy for the sake of convenience.

Of course. How many of you use Amazon One-Click?
posted by UncleFes at 2:00 PM on June 21, 2002


Preview! Not Post!

What Ty said, though -- Ashcroft really does come across like a scary deacon puppet from The Wall.

And grrarrghoo -- the government is rapidly taking strides to supersede the limits placed on them over decades, maybe centuries, of democratic experimentation -- puh -- frickin' -- lease. This kind of overblown, shaking-leaf rhetoric is tiresome, and there's a boy-who-cried-wolf quality to it (I've been hearing it since Reagan -- and watched for eight years as shaking-leaf Republicans freaked out over the obvious dictatorship under Clinton from which our democracy would never recover -- that is, assuming Clinton didn't cancel the 2000 elections!).

There has been a change in psychology, no doubt -- the climate changed after September 11, and the USA-PATRIOT act represented a laundry list of investigative tools that probably mostly seemed unattainable to law enforcement before. Has this imperiled our democracy? Not really. It's possibly involved some actions which will worm their way through the courts until part of the law is ruled unconstitutional, but that's the way our system has always worked. The USSC may have Marbury v. Madison judicial review, but they do not, as yet, have "preconstitutionality" review of laws just passed. And believe you me, USA-PATRIOT is going to be challenged across the board once there are any convictions to appeal. The law represents chips at the corners, not fundamental abrogations, of the rights of the accused.

In times of peril and especially war, executives have pretty much always acted in ways that in peacetime would be labeled dictatorial. To this day scholars believe Lincoln acted unconstitutionally in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, for example. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, as well, on his own authority rather than through Congress as many argue he should. It was not challenged by Congress, though; and many of the cases in which it was used were handled by the courts over time such that its effect was diluted. Similarly even FDR's arrest of the Nazi saboteurs (by a freakishly youthful J. Edgar Hoover) was challenged later.

The question of what to do with Padilla is tricky. I'm not surprised the Bush team has tried to hold closely the decision on his disposition, but I'm also pretty certain they'll lose when the challenge goes through. We haven't actually lose our process, you see. The Constitution remains in effect, and Congress and the Supreme Court continue to do business.

This is going to be a tough war to fight. We have those on our shores already, many of them citizens, whose sympathies seem to lie more with our enemies. We can arrest people who "haven't committed crimes yet", on the basis of conspiracies in which we believe them to be involved, but the slighter the evidence of that conspiracy, the harder convictions will be and the shorter sentences will be.

The administration seems to be betting that aggressive action will disrupt the scariest plots before they get off the ground, which we can only hope is correct. I'm not sure I'm willing to bet on the alternative, you see; and I'm not satisfied that the threat of 5 million murder charges is much of a deterrent. But on the other hand we frequently disrupt murders-for-hire by similar means. (I've seen statistics that say that 50% of convictions involve a tip-off and either an informant or a policeman posing as the hired killer.) Those people aren't convicted of murder, but the planning and hiring are themselves crimes, so they get found out and exposed. Is that "pre-crime"? Are we really better off waiting until the murder so we have something concrete we can send them to jail for? Or are we more comfortable settling for a lesser conviction that simply disrupts the plan, even though the indictee will try to claim it was 'just talk'? As a society we've clearly opted for a kind of pre-crime in that scenario, with the trade-offs seeming very acceptable.
posted by dhartung at 2:05 PM on June 21, 2002


the internet as a monitoring tool by even your best "hackers" is akin to string and tin cans to microwave burst transmitters. The real cool monitoring devices are not available to 'us'.

That's true ... for now. However, think about the technologies available to us now as compared to 10 years ago. Then 20 years ago. Then 30 years ago.

And even right now, I don't really need to see you to know what you're about. If I can see what you purchase and when, I can come to a fairly reasonable estimate of your personality, as should be expected of a consumer society. And the more self-profiling you do--to use UncleFes' example of Amazon OneClick, eg--the more refined I can make the estimate. If so-called smart houses truly come about, and I can successfully hack into yours, this information could conceivably be easily had, and further distributed to others.

There's a book entitled Nature's End by Whitley Streiber that has a fascinating subplot that involves just this type of profiling, until eventually the computer simalcrum of a character in the book is able to correctly answer questions about the character's shady past.

I was going to provide link to the book over at Amazon, but Fes has made me paranoid. ;-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:14 PM on June 21, 2002


Memo to self: Alert handlers, Operation Mefi Freakout, step one initiated.
posted by UncleFes at 2:20 PM on June 21, 2002


I don't really need to see you to know what you're about.

That is the fallacy sir. If you 'saw' my logs to say, disinfo, acme porn, extraammo clips.com, one MAY gather what that person is about. The trick is, what if those 'marginal' topics are just a smoke screen or created by someone else. It depends on the assumption that what one gathers is worth gathering, even better, wether that info is even pertinent. Also, what would be pertinent, to say terrorism, about buying habits upon the internet. To build a dossier? One could easily just question some one cold (out of the blue) and get a better idear of that person. I think the separation of individual spying to professional spying is lost in all this conversation.

(Initiates step two by plastering pictures of Nixon playing the piano into jpegs within mefi)

anyone find it "funny" that under 'mefi' in the spellcheck, the next choice is 'Mafia'
posted by clavdivs at 4:34 PM on June 21, 2002


The most interesting thing about the movie/book's premise to me hasn't been any superficial similarities to current events, but it's metaphysical implications.

If it could truly be said that you were "guilty" before you have done anything, that would imply a sort of Calvinist predestination. I don't know -- having not yet read the book or seen the movie -- if Dick was trying to portray an ultimate apotheosis of this sort of reasoning, and where it leads us.

But, unless I understand the facts incorrectly, I think in the Padilla case the government's position is that he conspired to commit a crime only the crime itself had not yet been committed. Much different from being, in some metaphysical sense, guilty before the fact.

No real similarity, just two situations that are disturbing in their own separate ways.
posted by oddovid at 4:39 PM on June 21, 2002


I think the separation of individual spying to professional spying is lost in all this conversation.

Perhaps, but I believe you're assuming that the only logs which I may track are those your computer keeps regarding Internet traffic. It does in some instances go further than that now, and shortly--10 years?--will definitely go further than that.

When a computer exists in every single electronic device you own, and further those computers all communicate with each other and then with other devices and networks beyond your direct conscious control, your counterspying--your smokescreens, so to speak--is going to be a lot harder to achieve. You will be inconvenienced by all these conveniences in order to retain your privacy. It doesn't matter who's doing the spying in this scenario. It only matters that you are being spied upon. You can either willingly pay the price of your privacy for your convenience or you can be greatly inconvenienced for the sake of privacy. But you won't be able to have both.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2002


Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, as well, on his own authority rather than through Congress as many argue he should. It was not challenged by Congress, though; and many of the cases in which it was used were handled by the courts over time such that its effect was diluted

True, though his decision was ruled unconstitutional later. (i suppose thats why he bypassed congress in the first place)

i agree with Lincolns' decision. Perhaps Pinkerton could be considered the prototype 'plumber'. I feel Lincoln had little choice, after all, the spies were teeming (no pun) in D.C. during the opening phases of the war. Was not the yanks loss at First Manasses (Bull Run) in part to blatant spying?
posted by clavdivs at 4:57 PM on June 21, 2002


Good point WD...counter-surveillance also improves with surveillance devices.

'You will be inconvenienced by all these conveniences' Spys cant afford luxuries like inconvenience, it's part of the job. The gist seems to be this: who cares if one downloads Phrack files, views porn, etc. (perhaps to a individual with a sick idea of fun) Non-pro spying on the neighbor is...arbitrary. Most (non-spies) don't have the authority to act upon what one finds and if they do, it is Illegal. Of course there are exceptions etc. Like having truckers look out for another or that joe blow has allot of internet traffic from 'badlandistan', funny guests and large weapons cache. It does have merit (what you said about 'habits'), i hope i did not 'godwin' on you. But in the world of Pros, it is moot to a degree. IP logs, 'strokers' etc. are important, they are one piece of the puzzle. The thing is, we only see part of the puzzle. This is by design.

A good example of what i'm trying to get at is the sovs disinfo through false defectors in the 60s. It makes ones head spin. But 'we' did find that Nosenko was a plant as well as 'Fedora'.

Have you considered that the one spying is the one being spied upon? (does a Moe 'Nyeahhh')
posted by clavdivs at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2002


Have you considered that the one spying is the one being spied upon? (does a Moe 'Nyeahhh')

Oh yeah, you betcha. But then, I work for an ISP in an affluent area in southern California. You wouldn't believe the shit that powerful people--politicians and entertainment industry executives--just hand over to me in the process of troubleshooting a problem with their service.

"This e-mail is bouncing, what's going on?" writes the former CEO of an entertainment industry conglomerate. BOOM! I now have the private e-mail address of one of the biggest (and it turns out, one of the gayest, and no it's not who you're thinking) stars in Hollywood. This star was 'outed' to me because the CEO unthinkingly forwarded the error message he received when the message delivery failed along with the contents of the message in question itself.

Multiply this incident a hundred times. A thousand. Each incident contains one more secret, one more detail, that I can't help but remember given the visibility of the people who are involved.

Is this spying? How can it possibly be considered such? I'm not clandestinely collecting the information (or am I?), it's being blithely and ignorantly tossed in my lap by some of the most influential people in both business and politics. Me, with no security clearances and with a criminal conviction in my deep dark past.

It keeps me awake at night, let me tell you. But it's also kinda fun knowing so many secrets. I just hope no one finds out.

Now excuse me, a black van has just pulled into my driveway ;-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:55 PM on June 21, 2002


I think it is very shortsited to base your privacy policies only on the limits of Technology today.
AI advances have the possibility to make all the arguments about there being to much information, false.
posted by Iax at 7:51 PM on June 21, 2002


AI wont determine the nuances of human activity. As far as info being thrown through the cruncher, thats one thing, making assessments on said info is another. Just cant risk some H-mobius HAL type...situation.

I just hope no one finds out
your pulling my clavdivs sir:)

I predicted a long drawn out ordeal in bosnia in mid 90's. (others saw a ray of hope) Based it on a TIME magazine article about them bad boys. See, the general had a little dossier side bar- like TIME does. Said his wife was dead and his daughter was murdered in her apt. She was a nurse. (Noble profession yes?) The man had little to lose, he'd fight to the death. I was right. nothing really changed until he was gone. Having or not having the intel is not all of the puzzle. How one got it is key. The lock is what or what not to do with it. ( I coffee tabled that TIME incident with a former high ranking naval officer with ONI training)
WD, bet your a Robert Altman fan...ah, the tracking shots
(and yes, i read a lot of spy novels:)
posted by clavdivs at 10:14 PM on June 21, 2002


i never stay up this late
posted by clavdivs at 10:14 PM on June 21, 2002


WolfDaddy:

Come on, admit it. It's Bruce Vilanch, isn't it?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:19 PM on June 21, 2002


What bristles the hair on the back of my neck is the way we all tend to humbly and dutifully clear a path for whatever technological juggernaut is currently bearing down upon us - we seem almost eager to abdicate any responsibility for steering, slowing, or stopping technologically induced change, no matter how dizzying or chaotic that change may be. It's like we've convinced ourselves that we really have no say in the matter - we're just lab rats in evolution's most recent experiment, in which technology is the ascendant arbiter.

Techno-euphoria. Techno-fatalism. Technobeisance. Transhumanism.

Thing is, I really can't decide if all this is a good thing or a bad thing. Unconsidered, unimpeded, raucous change...sounds risky, sure, but it also sounds so damnably interesting...perhaps our debonair incaution is evolution's hole card.
posted by Opus Dark at 2:03 AM on June 22, 2002


According to The Codebreakers privacy was a major concern with early telegraph lines, before everyone realized that telegraph operators were too bored and didn't give a damn about the messages they were passing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2002


hmmm....thomas edison....hnmmmmm
posted by clavdivs at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2002


« Older Apropos of nothing, ...  |  Wal-Mart Ships PCs with Lindow... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments