Fast Company

NYPD, Microsoft Launch All-Seeing "Domain Awareness System" With Real-Time CCTV, License Plate Monitoring [Updated]

The New York Police Department has a new terrorism detection system that will also generate profit for the city.

The New York Police Department is embracing online surveillance in a wide-eyed way. Representatives from Microsoft and the NYPD announced the launch of their new Domain Awareness System (DAS) at a lower Manhattan press conference today. Using DAS, police are able to monitor thousands of CCTV cameras around the five boroughs, scan license plates, find out the kind of radiation cars are emitting, and extrapolate info on criminal and terrorism suspects from dozens of criminal databases ... all in near-real time.

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly first announced that Microsoft had the NYPD's Domain Awareness System under development at the Aspen Security Forum in July. Microsoft has quietly become one of the world's largest providers of integrated intelligence solutions for police departments and security agencies. Although DAS is officially being touted as an anti-terrorism solution, it will also give the NYPD access to technologies that--depending on the individual's perspectives--veer on science fiction or Big Brother to combat street crime. The City of New York and Microsoft will be licensing DAS out to other cities; according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City's government will take a 30% cut of any profits. "Citizens do not like higher taxes, so we will (find other revenue outlets)," said Bloomberg. Bloomberg continued that "I hope Microsoft sells a lot of copies of this system, because 30% of the profits will go to us."

According to publicly available documents, the system will collect and archive data from thousands of NYPD- and private-operated CCTV cameras in New York City, integrate license plate readers, and instantly compare data from multiple non-NYPD intelligence databases. Facial recognition technology is not utilized and only public areas will be monitored, officials say. Monitoring will take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a specialized location in Lower Manhattan. Video will be held for 30 days and then deleted unless the NYPD chooses to archive it. Metadata and license plate info collected by DAS will be retained for five years, and unspecified “environmental data” will be stored indefinitely.

Cameras are primarily deployed in the Financial District, Midtown Manhattan, and at strategic transportation points like bridges and tunnels. In addition, radiation detectors capable of identifying radiation contamination from chemotherapy, X-rays, medication, industrial uses, and terrorism will also be deployed.

Although NYPD documents indicate that the system is specifically designed for anti-terrorism operations, any incidental data it collects “for a legitimate law enforcement or public safety purpose” by DAS can be utilized by the police department. The NYPD will also share data and video with third parties not limited to law enforcement if either a subpoena or memorandum of understanding exists. The DAS system is headquartered in a lower Manhattan office tower in a command-and-control center staffed around the clock by both New York police and "private stakeholders." 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.

The system also allows deep, granular analysis of crime patterns in real time. Information about suspects can also be quickly called up. At a press conference, Microsoft's Jennifer Tisch showed how integrated geographic information systems could display layers of real-time crime analysis for both misdemeanors and felonies. In addition, real-time access to multiple databases belonging to the NYC and other organizations can bring up a massive personal history--including both criminal and public domain information--from any suspect in a matter of seconds.

At the Aspen Conference, Kelly praised DAS as a next-generation law enforcement tool. Civil libertarians, however, are concerned. The NYPD has been at the center of recent controversies involving civil rights and surveillance; in July, a 911 call revealing an NYPD anti-terrorism safe house in New Jersey was released. The safe house in the college town of New Brunswick was monitoring Muslim-American college students; the safe house/apartment's landlord feared the NYPD apartment might have been harboring terrorists.

In response to a question about civil liberties at the press conference, Bloomberg and Kelly noted that similar systems have been used in the private sector for years--and that mobile phone companies track the intimate, granular details of users' locations.

Similar systems have already been deployed in Baltimore and the United Kingdom. However, the NYPD DAS system is one of the largest in scale that has been publicly announced.

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