The NYPD’s Domain Awareness System Is Watching You

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Photo: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The New York City Police Department and Microsoft have partnered up to bring the world a surveillance system straight out of a sci-fi novel. With a name both mundane and a little bit menacing, the Domain Awareness System allows the department to access around 3,000 CCTV cameras around the city and link the feeds with software to cross-check criminal and terrorist databases, take radiation levels, scan license plates, and more — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from a lower Manhattan headquarters. And when Microsoft turns around and sells the technology to other cities, New York gets a cut.

"We're not your mom-and-pop's Police Department anymore," said Mayor Bloomberg yesterday at the system's unveiling. "We are in the next century. We are leading the pack." Ray Kelly added, "We can track where a car associated with a murder suspect is currently located and where it’s been over the past several days, weeks or months." Months! The archival period for video is actually 30 days, but can be extended if the Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism feels like it.

The official documents ensure, "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." But we've heard that one before.

Beyond the surveillance integration, the Domain Awareness System is an investment. "I hope Microsoft sells a lot of copies of this system," the mayor said, "because 30 percent of the profits will go to us." High-tech crime fighting and a business opportunity? It's a Bloomberg-ian dream.