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Microsoft & NYPD launch an all-seeing Big Brother crime & terrorism prevention system

Aug 09, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

NYPD and Microsoft launched a crime and terrorism prevention system called the Domain Awareness System that has been compared to Minority Report and an all-seeing Big Brother. It uses software to suck in, analyze, connect dots and otherwise monitor data that is constantly collected and stored in a database. Data like real-time CCTV and license plate monitoring.

It’s well known that Microsoft has a good relationship with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It also has developed Public Safety & National Security Solutions. “Microsoft has quietly become one of the world’s largest providers of integrated intelligence solutions for police departments and security agencies,” Fast Company reported. This is regarding the NYPD and Microsoft launching an all-seeing crime and terrorism prevention system called the “Domain Awareness System” (DAS) that uses software to suck in, analyze, connect dots and otherwise monitor data that is constantly collected. Data like real-time CCTV and license plate monitoring.

“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.” Also according to Fast Company, “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.”

Business Insider called it a “Minority Report crime fighting surveillance system.” It supposedly “bears a passing resemblance to the futuristic hologram data screens used by Tom Cruise in the science fiction film Minority Report, will allow police to quickly collate and visualize vast amounts of data from cameras, license plate readers, 911 calls, police databases and other sources.” According to The Guardian who originally posted the article, “It features live video feeds, huge databases of recent crime patterns and can take input direct from the field in real time via things like 911 calls or police radios.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “It is a one-stop shop for law enforcement.”

Apparently Fox News thinks it is super high tech as well. “Standing before a 30-foot-long wall of video monitors that looked like the set of a Hollywood TV show.” At the unveiling, Mayor Bloomberg said, “We are not your mom and pop’s police department anymore. We are leading the pack.” 

“There are about 3,000 closed-circuit television cameras connected to the Domain Awareness System, most of which are located in lower and midtown Manhattan, along with 2,600 radiation detectors carried by officers on patrol and several hundred license-plate readers mounted on police cars and deployed at bridges, tunnels and streets,” Bloomberg reported.

“In order to help ensure public safety and security and to detect, deter, and prevent potential terrorist activities, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has developed a networked Domain Awareness System,” states the New York City Public Security Privacy Guidelines [PDF]. “The Domain Awareness System not only supplies critical supplemental assistance to officers’ ongoing security and public safety efforts, but also enhances the collaborative nature of those efforts by leveraging the resources of the private sector and other City agencies. Given the ongoing threat of terrorist attack, the Domain Awareness System is an important part of the NYPD’s integrated approach to providing protection for those who work in, live in, and visit New York City.”

The document says that an “Authorized Agent” with the NYPD must give a stamp of approval before “certain action” is taken. The DAS is “part of the counterterrorism program” and will include CCTV videos that will be stored for 30 days unless the “Authorized Agent” determines it needs stored for longer than the original “Pre-Archival Period.” License plate reader data and metadata will be stored for five years. Environmental data is to be stored forever, worded as “retained indefinitely.”

Although there are “limits on the sharing of data with third parties,” all of this DAS data can be shared to help connect the dreaded dots of suspicion. “Unless otherwise provided for in a memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and a third party, any decision to share Video, Metadata, LPR Data, or Environmental Data with third parties, beyond Stakeholder Representatives, must be approved and documented in writing by the Authorized Agent, or a designee approved in writing by the Authorized Agent.” This “Authorized Agent” is not always the same person. In some cases it is the “Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism,” in others it is the “Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters.”  

Physical access to all of this stored data is to be protected, the guidelines states, and “is limited to NYPD personnel, authorized invited guests, and Stakeholder Representatives.” Direct access to the DAS database “is limited to authorized NYPD personnel and Stakeholder Representatives.” It would be interesting to know exactly who those stakeholders and invited guests might be.

“Microsoft is in it for the long haul,” PCMag added. “The company’s vice president of American services, Lt. Gen. Mike McDuffy, made the assurance Wednesday that Microsoft is deeply committed to taking this initiative to another level.” Microsoft intends to sell DAS to other cities and through the partnership, New York City “will receive 30 percent of all revenues on future sales of the domain system.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.