China has a new strategy in fighting crime, ripped from science fiction and hastily pasted at the top of the list of paranoia-inducing concepts.
It’s called pre-crime. It goes further than sting operations, counterterrorism, or any other government action to preempt criminal activity ever before.
Like the 2002 film Minority Report, China wants to fight crimes before they happen. They want to know they’ll happen before they’re planned—before the criminal even knows he’s going to be part of them. Bloomberg Business reported that the Communist Party “has directed one of the country’s largest state-run defense contractors, China Electronics Technology Group, to develop software to collate data on jobs, hobbies, consumption habits, and other behavior of ordinary citizens to predict terrorist acts before they occur.”
The Chinese government wants to know about everything: every text a person sends, every extra stop they make on the way home. It’s designed for dissidents, but it means that they’ll know every time a smoker buys a pack of cigarettes, how much gas a car owner uses, what time the new mom goes to bed, and what’s in the bachelor’s refrigerator.
It’s a scary thought, especially when you consider that the main target of Chinese pre-crime efforts wouldn’t be “terrorists,” murderers, rapists, or child molesters, but rather dissidents of every shape and size.
By publicly announcing their intention to build an intelligence network that can predict crimes, China just took a step closer to all the thought-policing dystopian nightmare scenarios we’ve always worried about as members of a modern society. And they want people to know it.
But is pre-crime in and of itself a dangerous technology? It’s hard to say.
Science fiction aside, pre-crime is already somewhat of a reality; data gathering is part of intelligence communities and police surveillance efforts and has been for years. A lot of that surveillance has helped nab those responsible for things like child pornography. But whereas it’s been largely surgical here in the U.S., China wants total coverage, which makes crime prevention look a lot different.
Crime prevention is a double-edged sword when it comes to individual rights: The logic that promotes deterrents (like better locks, larger police forces) doesn’t target individual criminals, but rather focuses on protecting people and property from any criminals that might do harm. But pre-crime and data aren’t designed to build better deterrents, but to search out people who might become criminals one day.