“Person of Interest” Becomes Real

So the TV show Person of Interest just became real in the city where it’s set.

In the show, Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from Lost) plays a computer programmer who created The Machine for the government. This black box system sorts all the data feeds from all the CCTV cameras, cell phones, computers, and other digital detritus looking for patterns that might indicate the planning of some kind of terrorist attack. Jim Caviezel (Jesus!) plays the former special forces guy who helps Emerson track down the people who are too small to be noticed by the system, but who are potential criminals or victims nonetheless.

Now Microsoft has partnered with the NYPD (last seen pretending their jurisdiction extends to New Jersey) and Nanny Bloomberg to make the whole thing real. And they’ve succeeded!

The nightmare device is called the Domain Awareness System, and it sorts through the feeds from the city’s 3,000 CCTV cameras and compares them to databases on criminals and potential terrorists, scans license plates, and probably does a lot more than they’re admitting (such as facial recognition).

You know the scene in The Dark Knight where Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) looks at the giant display created by Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) featuring similar technology? He says quietly: “This … is … wrong.” Later in the movie, he destroys the whole thing, believing no one can have that much power.

Good times, good times…

I guess it was too much to hope that a mayor who believes your fat, salt, and soda intake is police matter would show similar restraint when it comes to security.

New York gets their system free since they helped Microsoft create the thing, and they even get 30% of the sales whenever Microsoft sells it to other cities.

Wow, Big Government and Big Business joining hands for public safety and profit! What could ever possibly go wrong? Let’s not forget Microsoft has a horrible security record. They’re also about to release the cloud-dependent Windows 8, which is almost certain to be full of security holes, so having them create the programming under the hood of a giant spy computer maybe isn’t the best idea.

Here’s what Nanny McB says about the new system:

“We’re not your mom-and-pop’s Police Department anymore,” said Mayor Bloomberg yesterday at the system’s unveiling. “We are in the next century. We are leading the pack.” Ray Kelly added, “We can track where a car associated with a murder suspect is currently located and where it’s been over the past several days, weeks or months.” Months! The archival period for video is actually 30 days, but can be extended if the Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism feels like it.

The official documents ensure, “As with all NYPD operations, no person will be targeted or monitored by the Domain Awareness System solely because of actual or perceived race, color, religion or creed, age, national origin, alienage, citizenship status, gender (including gender identity), sexual orientation, disability, marital status, partnership status, military status, or political affiliation or beliefs.”

As long as I’m on a theme, I’ll let Heath Ledger react to that last line for me:

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.