George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' written in 1949 appears to have entered the world's zeitgeist almost 30 years later than the author's prognostication. The satirical novel set in the fictional country of Oceania describes a dystopian society tyrannized by omnipresent government surveillance. Today, the TV Show 'Person of Interest' introduces a similar theme by replacing Orwell's 'Big Brother' with 'The Machine.' Is a world of paranoia within our midst?
However even though the premise is similar, there are distinctions to be made between the two fictional treatments. While an Orwellian society is characterized by governmental control and the subjection of its people, in the world of computer programmer Harold Finch who created The Machine, surveillance is used for the good in detecting criminals and victims in advance of crimes perpetrated.
American surveillance of the public using CCTV, or closed-circuit television first appeared in 1973 in Times Square, New York City. The NYPD installed it in an attempt to deter crime occurring in the area. In the wake of 9/11, its use spread across the country. In the UK, the first recorded CCTV installations were initiated throughout Scunthrope in May 2008. Today, the use of video surveillance has become common-place throughout the world.
The black box system of 'Person of Interest' sorts all the data feeds available from CCTV cameras, cell phones, computers, and other digital detritus looking for patterns that might indicate the planning of nefarious activities. Flash forward to the 2013, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg takes a page out of the show's playbook and creates his own system.
Partnering with software giant Microsoft, the NYPD now has access to their "machine," called the Domain Awareness System (DAS). Launched in the summer of 2012 and like its fictional counterpart, it sorts through the feeds of the city's 3,000 CCTV cameras throughout its five boroughs and compares them to criminals' rap sheets, license plates scans and even can determine the kind of radiation cars are emitting.
All done in real-time, while the system is touted to fight crime and terrorism, according to Neal Ungerleider from Fast Company "it veers on science fiction or Big Brother." And because New York City was the first to roll out the comprehensive system, Bloomberg struck a deal with Microsoft where New York City will take a 30% cut of all profits when sold to other municipalities. "Citizens do not like higher taxes, so we will (find other revenue outlets)," said Bloomberg, noting: "I hope Microsoft sells a lot of copies of this system, because 30% of the profits will go to us."
Cameras are primarily deployed in the Financial District, Midtown Manhattan, and at strategic transportation points like bridges and tunnels. However, harkening back to an Orwellian society, or metaphorically to the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, there's other entities watching our every move.
According to Ungerleider when he visited the DAS headquartersin downtown Manhattan, he noticed the command-and-control center was not only staffed around the clock by police officers, it also had seats allocated for corporate entities in the fields of banking, hedge funds and even one pharmaceutical company. "When this reporter visited, seats were clearly designated with signs for organizations such as the Federal Reserve, the Bank of New York, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, and CitiGroup," noted Ungerleider.
If the idea of local police having this capability is too frightenly Orwellian for you, imagine now that corporations have access, who might eventually have the opportunity to abuse this power a la Big Brother!
In the graphic novel, "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks," the story satirizes Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg assuming the role of Big Brother in his control over a brain-washed society he callously labeled "dumb f*cks" when he first launched the company. With over one billion followers to date, and third in total population to countries the size of China, is it so far-fetched that this social network isn't also thinking about developing their own machine for control and
Page from Facebucks & Dumb F*cks graphic novel