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Police Love Naming Their Spying Tools After 'Skynet'

Why would anyone name their project this?

Samantha Cole

Image: Insomnia Cured Here/Flickr

Cops are dorks. As a continual reminder, they keep naming their surveillance projects after the evil AI from the Terminator franchise.

In the Terminator universe, Skynet is an artificial intelligence project gone awry. It was intended to remove the possibility of human error from things like military defense. Instead of serving the people who created it, Skynet gains sentience and turns on all of humanity.

The Solano County Sheriff's Office in Northern California recently applied for funding a surveillance effort which it creatively deemed "Project Skynet." The proposed $2 million project involved installing cameras around Solano County, to capture images and video of all vehicles entering and exiting the county.

The partially-funded proposal is framed as a terrorism prevention measure, but as the Center for Human Rights and Privacy notes, "given that terrorism is extremely rare, this surveillance network is more likely to be used against pedestrian suspected criminal activity." So maybe Skynet is a great name for this project, after all.

Solano County is hardly the first to name a creepy surveillance project after the Terminator antagonist.

In 2011, authorities in China's Tongzhou district installed hundreds of CCTV cameras and police call boxes, which they named "Tianwang," literally translated to "Skynet," according to the China Times. Then, people there were generally unconcerned about being monitored by Skynet. By 2013, Skynet expanded in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang, and was used in part to monitor the movements of political activists. Now it's a well-known part of China's infrastructure.

The US National Security Agency has its own SKYNET for the purpose of tracking and analyzing location and communication metadata, and most notably labeled a prominent Al Jazeera journalist as a member of al-Qaeda in 2015.

Last year, a company in China's Jiangsu province filed for a patent of Skynet branding. The company specializes in high-voltage stun batons and various bludgeons. Cool!

But the UK beat everyone to the Skynet naming game in 1969, with the first launch of the British military communications satellite with the same name. So maybe it's James Cameron who was taking notes on cheesy naming schemes.