Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Perfect Non-Crime

by Michael L. Rich

New York Times

August 6, 2012

Even if we could make it impossible for people to commit crimes, should we? Or would doing so improperly deprive people of their freedom?

This may sound like a fanciful concern, but it is an increasingly real one. The new federal transportation bill, for example, authorized funding for a program that seeks to prevent the crime of drunken driving not by raising public consciousness or issuing stiffer punishments — but by making the crime practically impossible to commit. The program, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (Dadss), is developing in-vehicle technology that automatically checks a driver’s blood-alcohol level and, if that level is above the legal limit, prevents the car from starting.

The Dadss program is part of a trend toward what I call the “perfect prevention” of crime: depriving people of the choice to commit an offense in the first place. The federal government’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program, which is creating technology to share data among vehicles and road infrastructure like traffic lights, could make it impossible for a driver to speed or run a red light. And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 has already criminalized the development of technologies that can be used to avoid copyright restrictions, making it effectively impossible for most people to illegally share certain copyrighted materials, including video games.

Or consider a more speculative scenario: some pharmaceuticals show the promise of blunting the “high” of cocaine use or reducing antisocial thoughts of the sort that often lead to crime. Widespread dissemination of such drugs — say, putting them in the public water supply — could make some crimes impossible by eliminating a potential offender’s desire to commit them.


Scott Menchin

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