Re: Justice & punishment

GBurch1 (
Sun, 22 Mar 1998 09:13:53 EST

[Sorry if I'm out of phase on specific threads, but I'm playing catch-up after
spending last weekend in the mountains of southeast Arizona . . .]

In a message dated 98-03-14 09:38:06 EST, den Otter wrote:

> In reality this means things like a fair, quick, discrete trial (no media
> circus) where only hard (forensic/video/audio etc.) evidence is
> admissible and everything is as automated as possible (electronic
> justice -- no juries and judges with very limited power), full legal
> assistance but only limited appeal possibilities, good food and comfortable
> cellspace while awaiting sentence, and if fould guilty of a capital
> offence (murder) a fully monitored execution according to the
> severity of the crime, followed by cryonic storage. No more, no less


I'm sure my opinion should be suspect, as this image doesn't seem to include a
role for lawyers, but, with all due respect, this seems like an unworkable
nightmare. Most factual disputes worth trying in any court are so because the
facts are debatable, even by forensic experts. Ultimately someone has to make
decisions of such disputed fact questions and any "electronic justice" able to
make such decisions would have to evidence at least as much intelligence and
-- more importantly -- wisdom as a human judge or jury.

While crimes committed in thoroughly "surveilled" public areas might someday
be susceptible to more "objective" fact-finding than we have today, crimes and
intentional torts would just happen in less observable locales. Unless every
square centimeter of every possible habitat is perfectly observed, committed
murderers or frauds will simply commit their acts in the least observed zones.

> I don't think a transparent society would be any
> more dangerous than one based on secrecy, but of course there's only
> one way to find out. Until that time, it would be very bold indeed to
> dismiss the idea alltogether. Anyway, I don't advocate _total_
> just "perfect" monitoring of public areas, not homes, offices etc. (that's
> up
> to every individual) for increased safety "on the steets" and justice
> based on hard evidence, not flawed human witnesses. It seems that
> more and more people agee (the surveillance systems are
> popping up all over the world like crazy -- and are helping to take a
> bite out of crime), so as surveillance technology gets cheaper, smaller
> and better the "(semi-)transparent society" seems almost inevitable,
> whether we like it or not.

I agree that improved surveillance systems will and should be used in "hot
spots" -- predictable locales for crime. One can imagine all sorts of clever
devices that would improve on the now-ubiquitous video cameras in places like
urban convenience stores. (Here's one -- a system in the doorway that, upon
detection of a gunshot or certain key phrases, automatically fires a small
probe to extract a DNA sample and a cloud of microscopic tracking devices from
the next n persons passing through the doorway . . .) But, anything less than
total surveillance of all possible locales for crime will still leave a need
for "flawed human witnesses" in any justice system.

I remain deeply suspicious of the concept of a completely "transparent
society" -- primarily for reasons other than the ones discussed here. But on
this point, I doubt seriously whether the idea is any panacea for justice.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover