Microsoft and NYPD Pair for Data-Fed Monitoring System

New York City is partnering with Microsoft on an analytics platform that can collect and analyze public-safety data in real time, with an eye toward helping police uncover potential threats.

The Domain Awareness System will draw data from 911 calls, previous crime reports, license-plate readers, law-enforcement databases, environmental sensors, and roughly 3,000 closed-circuit cameras. It will rely on the New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN), a high-speed wireless broadband infrastructure that allows city agencies to rapidly transmit data, and used for everything from emergency response to reading meters.

Microsoft architected and coded the Domain Awareness System based off the NYPD’s requirements, which in turn were developed via focus groups with officers. It’s a potential moneymaker for the city, which will earn 30 percent of the gross revenues on the sale of the platform to other customers. In turn, the city plans on reinvesting those revenues into counter-terrorism and crime prevention programs.

“Part of the reason we have been able to continue driving down crime to record lows while devoting considerable resources [to] counter-terrorism is our heavy investment in technology and our willingness to develop new, cutting-edge solutions,” New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in a statement.

The platform can leverage mapping features and rich-data sources to give investigators a geospatial and chronological view of crime patterns, for example, or allow commanders to query a database to correlate crime statistics with officer deployment. It can pair information from live video feeds with information such as arrest records, or allow officers to rapidly rewind to see who left a package or vehicle in a particular location.

Over the past decade, the NYPD has evolved into what the Associated Press once described as “one of the country’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies.” Since 2005, its Real Time Crime Center has combined information such as 911 call logs into a searchable database, the better to analyze and map crime patterns.

It seems inevitable that the Domestic Awareness System will spark privacy concerns. According to Gothamist, Bloomberg argued that the system isn’t an example of Big Brother overstepping the line:

“What you’re seeing is what the private sector has used for a long time… If you walk around with a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are… We’re not your mom and pop’s police department anymore.”

Gothamist also stated that “feeds compiled by the system” are erased after thirty days, and that data from social networks isn’t monitored.

But whether that stops privacy advocates from calling the system Orwellian remains to be seen.