The two warring AIs in Person Of Interest rely on NSA government surveillance feeds for their ability to predict terrorist and criminal activity. Samaritan relies on the feeds to control and manipulate people for its own nefarious ends. The Machine relies on them to subvert Samaritan and to protect Finch and his team.

Neither machine can do anything much at all without the feeds.

So is there any obvious explanation as to why somebody doesn't just cut the feeds to stop them? Why, for example, can Samaritan not stop the machine by just cutting the feeds? Or why can control not stop Samaritan's nefarious influence on government by cutting its feeds?

  • 1
    I had the impression Control was pretty much out of the loop and the rest of the government simply didn't know that their precious anti-terror toy was acting against them behind their backs.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:43
  • 2
    Because cutting the feeds would cut the FBI nsa and general law enforcement off from the feeds too? Not like there is one cable labeled "feed" instead of multiple Internet accessible connections.
    – cde
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:43
  • @cde But we clearly see that, in testing, the government have to specifically authorise feeds to Samaritan (and can restrict the test to New York). So, presumably, they could specifically de-authorise those feeds without affecting any other systems.
    – matt_black
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:45
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    @cde If the AIs could access surveillance data without authorisation then why did Decima go to so much trouble to get government approval for Samaritan to get access to them?
    – matt_black
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:05
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    Just to answer a part of your question: In S05E01 it is mentioned that Samarithan has produced a kind of malware which is basicly in every hardware. Hence, even if the government cut the feeds, Samarithan would get enough data to work fine. (I think, in some episode in Season 4 it is mentioned that Samarthan is buying a router company to access their hardware). Oct 24, 2016 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


One does not simply cut the feeds.

To effectively do so would mean that no one and no thing could access them from outside of a closed loop. And to close the loop you'd need to put the surveillance equipment on an isolated power grid; isolate the harmonics of the room they're in, as well as disallowing all other wavelengths of energy from dissipating outside of the room and the EMF coming off the wires that the information travels through (otherwise it's likely to be perceptible to any supercomputing AI worth its salt), and prevent the social engineering of employees privy to the information, rendering both AIs and all the equipment useless.

All you'd be left with is two AIs who can beat any human at chess, and a better version of Siri (and a completely hampered ability to conduct surveillance yourself).

As to why somebody doesn't just cut the feeds to stop them, that would be like the credit industry thinking that the plot of Fight Club was a good idea even though the people who work in it are probably in debt just like the rest of us. People like their job security and having at least a semblance of control (cde's comment pretty much covers it).

Cutting the feeds would cut the FBI's, the NSA's, the CIA's, [insert possessive three letter initialism here] and the general law enforcement's access off from the feeds too.

Also, I think we all know what happens when you try to pull the plug on Skynet. What are you doing, Dave? Neither of the AIs, nor any person in proverbial control, has the goal of putting humanity back in the stone age.

All your informations are belong to us.

TEMPEST is a National Security Agency specification and a NATO certification referring to spying on information systems through leaking emanations, including unintentional radio or electrical signals, sounds, and vibrations. TEMPEST covers both methods to spy upon others and also how to shield equipment against such spying. The protection efforts are also known as emission security (EMSEC), which is a subset of communications security (COMSEC).

The NSA methods for spying upon computer emissions are classified, but some of the protection standards have been released by either the NSA or the Department of Defense. Protecting equipment from spying is done with distance, shielding, filtering, and masking. The TEMPEST standards mandate elements such as equipment distance from walls, amount of shielding in buildings and equipment, and distance separating wires carrying classified vs. unclassified materials, filters on cables, and even distance and shielding between wires or equipment and building pipes. Noise can also protect information by masking the actual data.

While much of TEMPEST is about leaking electromagnetic emanations, it also encompasses sounds and mechanical vibrations. For example, it is possible to log a user's keystrokes using the motion sensor inside smartphones. Compromising emissions are defined as unintentional intelligence-bearing signals which, if intercepted and analyzed (side-channel attack), may disclose the information transmitted, received, handled, or otherwise processed by any information-processing equipment.

  • Just because the NSA or the CIA has the feeds doesn't mean they have to be shared. We don't have to deny anyone the feeds to stop an AI getting them and characters actually discuss cutting the feeds more than once in the show. Perhaps by series 5 the machines have bypassed the government's sources, but the government could, surely, have blocked the AI access earlier.
    – matt_black
    Nov 23, 2016 at 9:01
  • @matt_black - Nothing ever has to be given for someone to just take it. See edit.
    – Mazura
    Nov 26, 2016 at 1:47

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