The Movie Minority Report: Ways in which technology has caused the residents of Washington D.C. to loose privacy


By: Derick Ariyam


            Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, and directed by Stephen Spielberg, is a movie that introduces a new experimental tool to combat crime called “Pre-Crime”. Pre-Crime is the ability to stop criminal activity before it happens, particularly by being able to see the crime foretold by a group called the pre-cogs, and then being able to quickly act on this information to apprehend the would-be criminal. Due to the advanced technology needed to project what the Pre-Cogs see in their mind, outwardly so that law enforcement may decipher it, the movie is set way in the future, 2054.

            In the future, according to this movie, there are other bits of new technology seen speckled throughout the movie. The one theme that seems surprisingly persistent with most of these technologies, is that with every new innovation, a bit of personal privacy is eaten up. There are the ubiquitous retinal scans littered throughout the city, quickly being able to accurately identify each individual that stands near it. There is another device, used to determine the number of “warm-bodies” present in a building; in the movie this is used before dispatching what the movie called “spiders”, robotic devices that slide under doors and can go anywhere, bathrooms, dinner-tables, bedrooms, to find whoever they might be looking—gathering more retinal data.

            The development and proliferation of retinal scans seems to catalyst the more invading technologies. At present day, the most practical way of determining identity is usually limited to subjective human face recognition (which can be wrong) through photo-ids from documents (which can be forged). Retinal Scans on the other hand, provide a means to gather identity reliably (granted they are your eyes) and as seen in the movie, can all be automated with computers, so there is no human intervention. The main drawback with this is, that in our society, with passports, driver’s license, etc. these documents need to be surrendered in order for someone to learn your identity; but with retinal scans, your eyes are always exposed, so your identity is almost always determined without your consent—the days of anonymity are over.

            The spiders in the movie, the robotic intruders that can enter your private residence to learn who you are, pose an interesting question when it comes to privacy. We know it’s invasive if a human enters your home without forewarning, but what about a robot? The movie does an excellent job trying to illustrate this point during a scene where 8 robots are seen scouring the rooms of an apartment complex to determine if one of the residents was the fugitive, John Anderton. The robots, like little insects, travel under doors, through floor ducts, whatever it takes, to enter your home, and whether you’re in the bathroom, in a compromising position, whatever your doing, the spiders enter your home and force you to stand still for identification.

            Most of these innovations are motivated by the effort to better combat crime, and when it comes to safety, most people would surrender anything it takes. We can see nowadays, after the tragedy of September 11th, passengers, for the most part, were willing to accept the need for heightened security, especially at airports. They are willing to have their email scanned for key terrorism words, as long as this will help thwart terrorism and criminal activity. If it’s a question of priorities, it’s understandable; if you’re not alive does it matters whether your privacy is being invaded or not?

            Minority Report is all about questions, and not just the obvious one: Is pre-crime effective? Most questions involve technology, and whether your privacy threshold has been crossed. These spiders crawling towards you while having dinner, does this scare you? The illuminated Guinness advertisement addressing you by name, do you approve? As we move deeper and deeper into the future, and as long as crime terrorism concerns still abound, we may see these questions again, only this time in referenda.