When the “Person of Interest”, CBC cop show began to air, I started to question if this cop drama about a government supercomputer that could predict the victims and perpetrators of crime, might not be so far fetched, after all.
Jonathan Nolan said that the government had been attempting to build precisely the kind of machine that was highlighted on the show for decades and that now, it seems to have succeeded, and according to a report, the National Security Agency was in the process of building a $2 billion data processing and spy centre in Bluffdale, Utah.
The one million square foot facility would be used to intercept, save and examine everything from private emails and cellphone calls to Web searches and parking tickets.
No longer a secret project and first exposed by the tech magazine Wired in March, it was the apparent realisation of the Total Information Awareness project proposed by the Bush White House in the months following 9/11.
Total Information Awareness (TIA) was nixed by Congress in 2003 amid fears of invading the privacy of ordinary Americans, and “Person of Interest”, which producers called science fact, was based on the belief that a version of the cyber-surveillance system had actually been created and was now being used covertly by its creator to counter violent crimes on the streets of New York.
The show was the top-rated new drama and it was a near-instant success when it debuted, and on the show, the reclusive billionaire computer genius Harold Finch, played by “Lost” star Michael Emerson, created the Big Brother system for the federal government, but he quits when he realises it was going to be used for illegal surveillance.
Back out on the streets, Finch hacks into “the machine,” as he calls and uses the information to anticipate smaller, local offences.
In each episode, the machine spits out a social security number that belongs to someone who will either be a victim or perpetrator.
Finch then enlists ex CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to stop it from happening, but in real life, many in government were unhappy when the plug was pulled on the TIA programme, designed to predict when and where the next terrorist attack may come.
However, Congress still left funding in place for processing, analysing and collaborating tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence, which is how the National Security Agency (NSA) was justifying its new undertaking.
The Utah Data Centre (UDC), also known as the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Centre, is a data storage facility for the United States Intelligence Community that’s designed to collect data estimated to be on the order of exabytes or larger.
Its mission was to support the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), though its exact purpose was classified.
The National Security Agency (NSA) leads operations at the facility as the executive agent for the Director of National Intelligence, and it’s located at Camp William near Bluffdale, Utah, between Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake and was completed in May 2014 for $1.5 billion.
And critics believe that the data centre can process all kinds of communication, including the entire contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all kinds of personal data trails, parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital pocket litter.
And in response to accusations that the data centre would be used to illegally monitor emails of US citizens, in April 2013 an NSA spokesperson said that numerous baseless allegations had been made about the proposed activities of the Utah Data Centre and that one of the biggest misunderstandings about the NSA was that they were unlawfully listening in on or reading emails of US citizens, and that was just not the case.