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All-seeing Big Bro Domain Awareness System coming to all 34,000 NYPD cops

Feb 21, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityEnterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

The Microsoft & NYPD Domain Awareness System pulls up all surveillance cameras within 500 feet of 911-reported suspicious activity, taps into license plate readers and other 'public' data . . . and this all-seeing Big Brother 'dashboard' that was meant as terrorism prevention is now coming to NYPD cops, squad cars and mobile devices.

Do you recall the all-seeing Big Brother and terrorism prevention system that Microsoft and the New York Police Department launched in August 2012, otherwise called the Domain Awareness System? Numerous articles mentioned Minority Report capabilities; it uses software to suck in, analyze, connect dots, and otherwise scrutinize data like real-time CCTV and license plate monitoring that is constantly collected and stored in a database.

The Associated Press reported, “A 911 call comes in about a possible bomb in lower Manhattan and an alert pops up on computer screens at the New York Police Department, instantly showing officers an interactive map of the neighborhood, footage from nearby security cameras, whether there are high radiation levels and whether any other threats have been made against the city. In a click, police know exactly what they’re getting into.”

Additionally, the Associated Press went inside to shoot a “First Person: Inside NYPD’s Surveillance System” video. “When the New York Police Department gets a 911 call, new technology known as the Domain Awareness System can instantly generate interactive maps and video feeds of the area.”

In the Domain Awareness System video demonstration, it showed an alert panel of “suspicious activity” that has been reported via 911. “We will call up all the cameras within 500 feet of the 911 call. Those cameras will populate on the screen.” It’s not real-time video, but surveillance camera footage from 30 seconds prior to the “suspicious activity” reported in the 911 call.

When it launched, Bloomberg reported, “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.” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said, “It is a one-stop shop for law enforcement.”

AP added to that, writing, “The Domain Awareness System, known as the dashboard, gives easy access to the police department’s voluminous arrest records, 911 calls, more than 3,000 security cameras citywide, license plate readers and portable radiation detectors. This is all public data – not additional surveillance.” Furthermore, AP reported:

The system uses hundreds of thousands of pieces of information. Security camera footage can be rewound five minutes so that officers can see suspects who may have fled. Sensors pick up whether a bag has been left sitting for a while. When an emergency call comes in, officers can check prior 911 calls from that address to see what they might be up against.

Amitai Etzioni, professor of international relations at George Washington University, said, “The invasion of privacy is much greater than anything we have seen so far.” The Domain Awareness System “should be renamed the Big Eye” as it “will track people 24/7.” He added, that “Big Eye makes a comprehensive profile of you, by — as its advocates boast — connecting the dots. It combines the information from thousands of different places and instruments, from all over the city.” Besides knowing everywhere you go and who you see, allowing the watchers to discern your political and religious preferences and what friends you visit, he added, “There is very little you do out of doors 24/7 that it cannot find out and the information it garners is kept in its archives for at least 30 days.”

The Domain Awareness System was dubbed a terrorism prevention system, but there are plans for this “dashboard” system to move from mainly being used by the counterterrorism unit to each of the 34,000 NYPD officers having access via laptops in squad cards and even mobile devices for cops walking their beat. There was no expected date supplied for when that will happen. Unless New York City is overflowing with terrorists who need the cops to prevent terrorism from happening, then this seems like the slow start of mission creep. Is this for fighting crime, or invading privacy and potentially building databases of activities for anyone and everyone who happens to walk outdoors?

Microsoft, as you might recall, has a great and long-standing relationship with government, law enforcement, and even intelligence agencies in the form of helping to fund fusion centers as well as provide fusion center technology. Regarding the Domain Awareness System, Dave Mosher, Microsoft VP in charge of program management, said that “the company started to market the system in August and is looking at smaller municipalities, law enforcement agencies and companies that handle major sporting events. He would not say whether any clients have been lined up and would not give details on the price except to say that it would depend on how much customization must be done.”

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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.