Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report is a short story about a dystopian future in which there are “no major crimes,” but a mass of imprisoned “would-be criminals.” This is thanks to “Precrime,” a criminal-justice agency whose preventive efforts are directed by a trio of mute oracles called “precog mutants.” The inherent and dark illiberalism of this approach is not lost on Precrime’s chief John Anderton, who concedes, “We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.” The film adaptation of the story was described by the film critic Peter Bradshaw as an “allegory for a hi-tech police state which bullies villains and law-abiding citizens alike with self-fulfilling prophecies of wrongdoing.”
To a certain degree, the future Dick envisioned has already arrived. It comes in the form of “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE), a set of “non-coercive” counterterrorism initiatives—embraced in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere—aimed not only at de-radicalizing or disengaging convicted terrorists, but also at preventing “at risk” individuals from becoming terrorists in the first place.
Unlike Precrime, CVE doesn’t license the mass imprisonment of would-be terrorists. But it does promote interventions that are intrusive and stigmatizing, targeting those who, to echo Anderton, have broken no law—but, as U.S. President Barack Obama recently put it, are “vulnerable ... to violent extremist ideologies.” British Prime Minister David Cameron struck a similar note in a speech earlier this month, promising to introduce yet more measures in the United Kingdom to tackle extremism “in all its forms,” including the “non-violent,” insisting that it was necessary to “stop this seed of hatred even being planted in people’s minds.”