Coming Soon: New York Mass Surveillance


New York police have unveiled what they claim is a revolutionary camera surveillance system designed to simultaneously scan the streets and call up data on suspects.

The Domain Awareness System (DAS), developed by Microsoft engineers working with the NYPD, will link around 3,000 cameras – primarily in Manhattan’s financial and business districts at first – with suspects’ arrest records, related crimes, licence plate readers and other data to build a real-time portrait of the individual under scrutiny.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the system had been created by police officers, detectives and software developers working in a “dynamic partnership between NYPD and the Microsoft Corporation”.

“This system capitalises on new powerful policing software that allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gathered from existing technology and help them respond even more effectively,” he told a press conference at the Lower Manhattan Security Command Centre.

“The entire system is designed to improve how New York City’s police officers do their jobs and that makes it a potentially valuable tool that we can expand to precincts and boroughs across the city.”

The city already has a network of surveillance equipment, designed to help identify and prevent any terrorist attack, but the new system will aggregate that information visually, so that it can be monitored in real time.

Officers will be alerted to the presence of a suspicious package, for instance, and then be able to rewind the feed to trace the individual who left it, or analyse cars linked to a suspect to track where they have been.

Comparisons have been made with the Tom Cruise sci-fi film Minority Report, but police insisted the system is needed to combat both terrorism and conventional crime in the city.

“The system allows us to connect the dots by instantly tapping into the details of crime records, 911 calls, licence-plate readers, video tape footage and more,” said NYPD Commisioner Ray Kelly, who led the police side of the project.

“All the information is presented visually in geographic and chronologic context – this allows investigators, analysts and operational personnel to generate and refine leads to identity patterns and to optimally deploy manpower.”

A deal between Microsoft and the NYPD means the city will receive 30% of any revenues if the system is sold to other cities in the US or around the world.

“Here’s an investment we’ve made which is going to be invaluable to keep this city safe,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

“But also we think we can recoup all of our expenses over a period of time and maybe even make a few bucks.”

The system will only be used in public areas, and will not use facial recognition software.

But civil liberties campaigners have expressed concern that it could be used by officers attempting to track a citizen without obtaining a warrant.