The Los Angeles City Council is considering going straight-up pre-crime.
The city could use automated readers to scan license plates on cars traveling through areas where prostitution is known to occur, and send a “Dear John” letter to the address where the car is registered.
The council’s hope is that the letter would be intercepted by a loved one like a girlfriend or mother, resulting in an appropriate level of shame and a smidgen of life-ruining. The only problem is you don’t actually have to have hired a prostitute to get on the city’s scarlet mailing list. You could just be driving through the area.
As Nick Selby writes at Medium, nothing about this scheme makes sense because they’re basically automating what a police officer would do assuming they had reasonable suspicion to investigate, except without all the parts where they establish the person is actually hiring a prostitute. It’s also labeling some neighborhoods as so toxic that everyone who lives in them must be guilty of something through no worse fault than lacking a better place to lay down at night.
Radley Balko of the Washington Post lays down the multiple logical leaps one would have to make to accept this as a water-tight vetting system.
“We’re now to the point where we’re passing laws aimed at potential johns suspected of soliciting prostitutes, simply because they were seen in an area where prostitutes are known to work, all because it’s possible that the theoretical prostitutes those suspected johns might have been soliciting are potentially underage or might have been forced in to sex work involuntarily.”
Presumably there was some mass, unreported theater failure where the last 30 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 classic Minority Report spontaneously combusted in the projector and went unseen by a disproportionate number of lawmakers because people keep trying to predict criminal behavior before it happens as if this is flawless idea.
Some security experts have been arguing for years that given the right algorithms we can identify who’s turned into an imminent terrorist threat online, and plenty would be happy if our internet service providers would keep a file of our digital comings and goings with little use outside planning potential prosecutions.