Police State/Civil Liberties

NYPD’s Spying Program: Coming Soon to a City or Corporation Near You

By Taylor Berman

Last August, the NYPD announced they’d partnered with Microsoft to create an elaborate city-wide spying/surveillance program, called the Domain Awareness System. The program provides the department with access to over 3,000 public and private security cameras, information that’s then instantly cross-referenced with criminal and terrorist databases, 911 call histories, license plate scanning machines, and radiation monitors.

All of this information is presented immediately, with a reportedly easy-to-understand (cop-friendly) design, across computers in the program’s lower Manhattan headquarters. When Bloomberg announced the program, he added that New York City, which invested $30 – $40 million in the system, hoped to turn a profit by eventually licensing the software – New York gets a 30% cut of profits — to other cities. Now, based on a report from the Associated Press, the push to sell the program is in full swing, and not just to other cities; Microsoft is also looking to license it to private companies that manage large events.

“It works incredibly well,” said Jessica Tisch, director of planning and policy for the counterterrorism unit.

“It was created by cops for cops,” Tisch said. “We thought a lot about what information we want up close and personal, and what needs to be a click away. It’s all baked in there.”

But how well does it work? Maybe an example of when it was used to save lives? That would probably help persuade potential buyers.

For example, officers used the system during a deadly shooting outside the Empire State Building in August. Dozens of 911 calls were coming in, and it initially looked like an attack staged by several gunmen. But officers mapped the information and pulled up cameras within 500 feet of the reported shots to determine there was only one shooter.

That incident, of course, ended with two NYPD officers shooting nine innocent bystanders, all in response to a crime in which there was only one targeted victim.

The Domain Awareness System, which, as the AP notes, has “been quietly in use for about a year,” is currently used only in NYPD offices, “mostly” for counterterrorism cases, but there are plans to expand access to laptops in squad cars and smart phones for officers walking their beat. But if you’re concerned about the NYPD abusing their new powerful technology by targeting people of a particular religion or race, you have nothing to worry about, according to the NYPD’s press release from last August.

“As with all NYPD operations, no person will be targeted or monitored by the Domain Awareness System solely because of actual or perceived race, color, religion or creed, age, national origin, alienage, citizenship status, gender (including gender identity), sexual orientation, disability, marital status, partnership status, military status, or political affiliation or beliefs.”

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