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Bloomberg, NYPD announce $30 million surveillance system

GERREN KEITH GAYNOR Special to the AmNews | 4/16/2013, 4:34 p.m.
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the inception of a new surveillance system that would lend the New York Police Department a greater eye of scrutiny on the city.

The computerized "Domain Awareness System" is a joint $30 million venture with Microsoft Corp. that will be a be a one-stop shop for police officials, comprised of data from 3,000 cameras and over 2,000 radiation detectors throughout the city. With this computer system, investigators will have access to real-time video footage and public safety data that is aggregated into one database. The Bloomberg administration and NYPD have characterized the technological advancement as a sophisticated tool to combat city crime and prevent future terrorist acts.

"This new system capitalizes on new powerful policing software that allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gathered from existing cameras, 911 calls, previous crime reports and other existing tools and technology," Bloomberg said in a press statement.

In the case that a suspicious package is left in the middle of the street, for example, the NYPD, using the surveillance system, would be able to immediately tap into video feeds and quickly look back in time to see who left it, according to a press release from the mayor's office. Investigators will also be able to map criminal history to geospatially and chronologically reveal crime patterns.

"The system is a transformative tool because it was created by police officers for police officers," said Kelly. "Its development is a testament to the talent and experience of our officers. This agreement with Microsoft will allow the NYPD to continue to fund innovative counterterrorism and crime prevention programs."

The Domain Awareness System is also expected to generate revenue for the city, according to officials. Microsoft will be selling the system software to other governments, from which the city of New York will make a 30 percent profit.

But like most steps taken by the Police Department to combat city crime, civil rights advocates are expressing their concerns with the new computer system, which they argue could impede the privacy of the millions who live in New York City.

"The NYPD and Microsoft appear to be teaming up to collect massive amounts of information about New Yorkers and yet the public has next to no details. There have been no hearings and no one has even mentioned privacy," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

National Action Network Executive Vice President and General Counsel Michael Hardy echoed those same concerns.

"Any advance in being able to protect citizens against crime is welcomed, but nevertheless it also raises privacy concerns," Hardy told the AmNews. "You're putting the innocent movement of people in a databank."

Though Hardy says he does see benefits to the Domain Awareness System, such as potential evidence used to exonerate innocent people accused of crimes, the potential risks are hard to ignore.

"No one wants to interfere or slow down the ability of the police to protect the citizens of this city and also protect us against potential future acts of terrorism, but at the same time, you cannot do that in a total tradeoff for your rights," he said.

Ultimately, Hardy said, citizens are unfortunately under the lens of the camera more often than not.

"Many of us unfortunately know that pretty much wherever you are in public that you're under the view of someone's camera, whether it's a government camera or a private camera. We have cameras on most commercial buildings now and most stores. No matter where you are, you're pretty much under the gaze of someone's camera."