by Jerry Mooney


Minority Report is a science fiction movie based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, starring Tom Cruise. In the movie precrime, ie. crimes not yet committed, is prevented based on foreknowledge, i.e. knowledge of future events provided by three psychics called precogs. The great thing about this movie is that it is fiction, right? Advanced predictive analytics and big data have become so sophisticated, however, they are approaching the precognitions prophesied in the dystopian movie.


Until recently, when we were spied on, it was on what we were doing or what we had done. Now, due to the advancements in computing and algorithms, it is no longer a dystopian sci-fi future. It is now possible to spy on what we will do. Big data is no longer limited to analyzing what we have done, it can project.

The advancements are not simply in those created in computation and algorithms, but access to data based on the fact that most people voluntarily carry around supercomputing tracking devices we call smart phones. Unprecedented access to live, interactive data streams are easily collected and analyzed. These data paint a mosaic where analytics can predict from your patterns, tendencies and even the evolution of your future patterns your future activities.

This digital capacity works hand in hand with the data collections and their encroachments on our privacy rights. Edward Snowden brought to light that our personal data was being accessed by the government without our consent. But is there is an extension of this spying. Our privacy is being breached, not by Big Brother, but by Little Brother? The phone companies, credit card companies, internet providers, search engines collect our data and use it to predict our behavior. They learn about who we are, what we do, where we go and mold their advertisements and their product rollouts to what they discover about us.

The question becomes, is this an invasion of our privacy? The legal answer is  that these companies are not governments, and therefore not restrained by the same protections. Simultaneously, they have been creating backdoors to our private data in the name of security.

The easy dismissal of this is that the data is merely used to target customers more effectively. This is similar to the dismissive narrative, that I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care about privacy. What this narrative fails to recognize is that privacy is not a utility. And “precrime” is the perfect reason to be concerned with our privacy rights.

As I write this technologies are being adopted by the police, where backdoor access to data isn’t required for the government, because it is the government. Predictive analytics, brain fingerprinting, mobile fingerprinting along with data collection methods like using drones and Google Glass are all part of how advanced computing are paving the way for the arrest of pre-criminals as an enforcement of future crime.

So next time you think that surveillance isn’t a big deal because you haven’t committed done anything wrong, just remember, your future self might have gotten you into big trouble and when you learn of this violation, it will be too late. Ultimately, we need to have a large discussion about data and privacy. The ability to collect the amounts of data at the rates we currently can and with the ability to analyze these data requires that we all understand the implications. Perhaps predictive analytics can provide us a future glimpse into the consequences.


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Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license


Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter@JerryMooney