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1984-coverIf you thought that the expiration of “certain parts” the Patriot Act restored your civil liberties, think again.

Those who have read the dystopia novel 1984 will be familiar with the concept of “thought crime.” Those who have seen the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, have heard the term “pre-crime.” Both scenarios involve authorities using advanced surveillance and psychological screening to predict potential crimes, and they were both conceived to warn us about predictive policing.

In George Orwell’s 1984, thought police watched the population on gigantic “Telescreens” and monitored people’s facial expressions, reflexes, and movements. But across America today, programs are already underway that will utilize existing surveillance infrastructure, such as “red light” cameras, close monitoring of recent parolees, and social media.

These techniques, combined with typical police tactics, such as monitoring “high-crime” areas, create complex algorithms for police that use detailed crime data to try to predict a crime before it happens. In Kansas City, the police department has named their program the “Kansas City No Violence Alliance” or KC NOVA. KC NoVA was developed by University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) statisticians to analyze relationships among criminals and map groups of offenders.

Tyrone C. BrownTyrone C. Brown, 29, held his son Tylin, 2, at a community picnic that he helped organize last month in Kansas City, Mo.

The New York Times recently told the story of Tyrone C. Brown, who was summoned to an auditorium by his probation officer. He was joined by about 30 other primarily young black men with criminal records who are being closely monitored by police. An officer began a slide show of people that the Kansas City Police are “cracking down on,” and Brown’s mugshot appeared on the screen. He was disturbed, and that’s exactly what the authorities wanted – for him to know he and the others are being constantly watched and will be collectively implicated in any violent act committed by an individual from the 30 person group.

Thanks to Yale researcher Andrew Papachristos, who developed an experimental algorithm, the Chicago Police Department was able to develop a 400 person “heat list” to “predict” those “most likely” to be involved in or become the victim of a violent crime. The Chicago police are actually visiting everyone on this list one by one to warn them that these individuals are monitoring them and suspect they will be involved in a violent crime.

Activists and civil rights groups are, of course, highly alarmed by this trend, raising the question of the damage that this program could cause to innocent people when there is a glitch in the system. There’s also an obvious violation of Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Activists from local Kansas City group One Struggle KC responded:

We ask, how is this even constitutional? It defies all concepts of fairness and legality when the state encroaches on the privacy of individuals for crimes not already committed in the way that this program allows. We certainly hope a constitutional challenge is in the works. This reeks of government overreach and sets the stage for potential civil rights violations. Are taxpayers prepared to foot the bill for violations committed by KCPD under this program?


Since the passing of the Patriot Act in 2001 and the NDAA in 2003, civil liberties have been eroding year after year. Through policies like these, legislators and police will be enabled to work together to set up a police state in a way that was previously only imagined through science fiction.





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