Has Israel just taken Britain’s Prevent strategy a stage further? Is it engaging in ‘pre-crime,’ the idea behind the Tom Cruise film Minority Report?
In an interview with a journalist from The Economist, published this week, an Israeli intelligence officer has spoken about identifying future attackers based on the online activity of past attackers.
“We can build in-depth profiles of past perpetrators, what motivated and inspired them and, based on what they have in common, locate those with similar characteristics,” the officer says, calling it “a new paradigm”.
This is the latest tactic to stop Arab Israelis with no past convictions or terror associations from walking up to Jewish Israelis and stabbing them on a whim.
So, what do these pre-criminals look like?
Past attackers have often taken to Facebook or Twitter to rail against Israel’s “desecration” of the al-Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount, complain about Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas or express anger at a friend or relative having been killed by Israeli forces, Israel’s intelligence officers say.
Apparently, such statements are often accompanied by the venting of personal problems, be they family or financial. Some attackers who are not shot dead at the scene have told interrogators that they thought of killing themselves instead, becoming “martyrs”.
So frequent is this phenomenon that Israel’s security personnel even have a name for it: “Suicide by IDF.”
In his cult 2002 film, director Steven Spielberg, which examines the role of preventative government in protecting its citizens, Tom Cruise’s unit arrests those three psychics “see” committing crimes in the future.
Fourteen years later, in Israel, this translates into algorithms, which are used to monitor the social media accounts of young Palestinians, to provide a list of potential suspects. These youngsters then receive “warning visits” by the Shin Bet security service, who tell them they are now under surveillance.
In Britain, the Prevent strategy seems to be a bit more sensitive. There was outrage when, six years ago, it emerged that surveillance cameras in Muslim areas of Birmingham had been funded by the Home Office’s counter-terrorism unit. Imagine what pre-crime profiling would provoke.
But the direction of travel is clear. Teachers are now duty-bound to report signs of “non-violent extremism” in children, 4,000 of whom have been referred to the government’s anti-radicalisation programme, among them a three-year-old.
In Israel, meanwhile, the need is more pressing. Dozens have been killed in the past six months, and – unlike the Second Intifada, when plans were funded and directed – the attacks this time are sporadic and spontaneous, by people with no organisational affiliations.
Time to bring in Spielberg…