15 Minutes Into the Future

NYPD Unveils Creepy New Surveillance System Developed with Microsoft

The city also gets a 30 percent cut of any future sales. Yowza.
 NYPD Unveils Creepy New Surveillance System Developed with Microsoft

“Wait, can’t I just Google the address?”

Just last week, news broke that the NYPD would soon begin rolling out new tech that brings together information streams like CCTV footage and criminal databases. Developed in partnership with Microsoft, it’s dubbed (with disturbing blandness) the “Domain Awareness System.”

Today, Mayor Bloomberg makes it official with an announcement. However, there’s a little detail that’s new: New York gets a 30 percent cut of any future sales to other cities, which’ll go to counter-terrorism and crime-prevention programs. (That sounds to us like a whole lot of surveillance cameras.)

The official announcement explains the system like so: 

The NYPD and Microsoft worked together to develop the Domain Awareness System, a sophisticated law enforcement technology solution that aggregates and analyzes existing public safety data streams in real time, providing NYPD investigators and analysts with a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal activity.

So there’s no new information gathering on New York City residents–the initiative merely centralizes and simplifies ease of use for what’s already available. However, the city is working to expand its network of 3,000 CCTV cameras connected to the system, which are concentrated in Lower Manhattan and Midtown. (Venturing out on a limb here, we’d wager Steinway Street, in Astoria–a popular location for the NYPD’s surveillance operations–will be wired up post-haste.)

However, not only does the city come out of this deal with new technology, but there’s also the matter of that 30 percent cut of any future sales. Besides the cold hard cash, Microsoft will also “provide access to any innovation derived from the sale of the system to new customers.”

Says Mayor Bloomberg:

“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. It will help the NYPD do more to prevent crimes from occurring and help them respond to crimes even more effectively.”

The city’s official announcement also helpfully outlines a few scenarios where the system might come in handy:

  • Investigators will have immediate access to information through live video feeds, and instantly see suspect arrest records, 911 calls associated with the suspect, related crimes occurring in the area and more;
  • Investigators can map criminal history to geospatially and chronologically reveal crime patterns;
  • Investigators can track where a car associated with a suspect is located, and where it has been in past days, weeks or months

The whole thing is reminiscent of London’s “ring of steel,” which has been blanketed with cameras for years, and also maybe just a little like that highly problematic system Batman built in The Dark Knight Rises that pissed off Morgan Freeman so much.

While this raises our Orwellian hackles, we can’t help but wonder whether this will soon be obsolete. The future of crime-fighting is all about leveraging big data to gain that sweet, sweet precognitive edge. It’s all about the algorithms, baby.

At any rate, it’s too bad Law and Order is off the air. What we wouldn’t give to hear Lt. Van Buren’s take on all this.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com