Person of Interest: 100% Security vs. 100% Privacy


I have been thinking of doing a post on the CBS’s PERSON OF INTEREST television program since last year.  In May it ended its sophomoric season with a whole gamut of revelations about “the machine” and its creators and users.

If you are not familiar with the show, it deals with a super computer which is always watching and analyzing everybody through the various electronic devices which we use every day for personal and community living.  In many ways it is more than a machine.

The cast is well suited to the herculean tasks that the machine assigns to them.   Their backstories are well crafted, and the plots are seamlessly devised to keep you hooked.  The supporting players are integrated into the story lines to make fiction seem realistic and sometimes gritty as New York City can be.

The tagline says,

You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator; if your number’s up… we’ll find you.”

With recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its PRISM program, the television show’s fictional reality is not too far from the actual reality of 2013.  In cyberspace privacy is a non-existent entity as the peddlers of data will review and sell one’s likes and dislikes to the highest bidder.

Ads for local events pop up as you scan the internet.  They know who you are!

Many people are concerned about this.  Others just don’t give a _______!

Certain religious communities, especially the ones with apocalyptic inclinations, see the current surveillance of daily life as an indication of the end of the age, the end of life as we know it.  The mysterious mark of the beast (when I was younger it was the UPC on food and non-food items) with microchip technology is on the horizon or Verizon if you like.

Like it or not, we live in a global village where, like the great British 1960’s series THE PRISONER, Number 2 is always watching the villagers.  The mysterious Number 1 was probably watching Number 2.  Privacy is a luxury which 2013 seems to have added to the oldies of yesterday.

Should we be concerned about being monitored by the governmental agencies?  What would J. Edgar Hoover say about the current technology to “observe” the typical American?

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society,” President Barack Obama.

As a society, what choices will we make?  Will we defer to our elected officials to make our choices since they believe we should trust them to do what is best for us individually and the country? Do you trust politicians and judges?

I will end with this quote from an insightful book written in 1949:

How could you tell how much of it was lies? It might be true that the average human being was better off now than before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different. It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness. Life, if you looked about you, bore no resemblance not only to the lies that streamed out of the telescreens, but even to the ideals that the Party was trying to achieve. Great areas of it, even for a party member, were neutral and nonpolitical, a matter of slogging through dreary jobs, fighting for a place on the Tube, darning a worn-out sock, cadging a saccharine tablet, saving a cigarette end. The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering—a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons—a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.”  George Orwell, 1984

G. D. Williams       © 2013

POST 474


Person of Interest


Huffington Post

Obama portrayed the programs as a trade-off between security and civil liberties. “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society,” he said.

He also expressed his displeasure that the domestic spying programs’ existence was leaked to the press. “I don’t welcome leaks,” he said. “There’s a reason these programs are classified.”

The Guardian

These recent events reflect how profoundly the NSA’s mission has transformed from an agency exclusively devoted to foreign intelligence gathering, into one that focuses increasingly on domestic communications. A 30-year employee of the NSA, William Binney, resigned from the agency shortly after 9/11 in protest at the agency’s focus on domestic activities.

In the mid-1970s, Congress, for the first time, investigated the surveillance activities of the US government. Back then, the mandate of the NSA was that it would never direct its surveillance apparatus domestically.

At the conclusion of that investigation, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho who chaired the investigative committee, warned: “The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.”


The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

Executive Order 12333–United States intelligence activities


PUBLIC LAW 108–458—DEC. 17, 2004

NSA’s PRISM Program,0,301166.story

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover was the first director of the FBI. He introduced fingerprinting and forensic techniques to the crime-fighting agency, and pushed for stronger federal laws to punish criminals who strayed across state lines. He also kept secret files on more than 20,000 Americans he deemed “subversive.”

The Guardian: Edward Snowden’s Interview