Is it Ethical to Make Crime Impossible?

Not if it interferes with people's thoughts: Michael L. Rich
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2012 12:33 PM CDT
Is it Ethical to Make Crime Impossible?

Imagine a world in which crime is simply impossible. Sounds nice, right? But in the New York Times, law professor Michael L. Rich warns of the dangers of what he calls "perfect prevention." Increasingly, the government is considering measures that would make certain crimes all but impossible; technology that would automatically prevent drunk driving, speeding, and running red lights is on the table. But some "perfect prevention" ideas go even further, actually interfering with people's thoughts—think drugs in the water supply that reduce antisocial thoughts—and that's where the trouble comes in.

It all comes down to the difference between thoughts and actions, Rich writes. No crime has been committed until an actual act is carried out; thoughts in and of themselves are not criminal, and thus cannot be regulated. Therefore, Rich argues, technology that prevents "strict-liability offenses"—crimes like drunk driving that are illegal regardless of mental state—is perfectly fine. Technology that intrudes on thoughts, however, is not OK—meaning that, "for most offenses, the threat to individual freedom is too great to justify this approach," Rich writes. Click for his full column. (More crime stories.)

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