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NYC Announces New Counterterrorism System -- Will It Lead to 'Unconstitutional Warrantless Surveillance'?


"We're not your mom and pop police department anymore."

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced at a press conference the city would soon be deploying a new counterterrorism system that would "[make] it easier for [officers] to determine if a crime is part of an ongoing pattern." Privacy advocates though have expressed concern that the system would reveal "intimate facts about your life."

The "Domain Awareness System" created out of a partnership with Microsoft leverages existing counterterrorism infrastructure, such as cameras and other data and tools held by the NYPD. According to the city's statement, the DAS "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."

“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," Bloomberg said in the statement. "It will help the NYPD do more to prevent crimes from occurring and help them respond to crimes even more effectively. And because the NYPD built the system in partnership with Microsoft, the sale of the product will generate revenue for the City that will fund more new crime-prevention and counter-terrorism programs.”

The city will receive 30 percent of revenues on Microsoft’s future sales of the Domain Awareness System, according to the statement.

Watch this Fox News report on the system with some footage of Bloomberg's announcement:

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who spoke at the Aspen Security Forum Saturday, said the program combines city-wide video surveillance with law enforcement databases.

The system will connect the city's 3,000 CCTV cameras, license plate readers, environmental sensors and other law enforcement databases. Fast Companies explains more about the system's data collection, which will take place only in public places, and how it could be used:

Monitoring will take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a specialized location in Lower Manhattan. Video will be held for 30 days and then deleted unless the NYPD chooses to archive it. Metadata and license plate info collected by DAS will be retained for five years, and unspecified “environmental data” will be stored indefinitely.


Although NYPD documents indicate that the system is specifically designed for anti-terrorism operations, any incidental data it collects “for a legitimate law enforcement or public safety purpose” by DAS can be utilized by the police department. The NYPD will also share data and video with third parties not limited to law enforcement if either a subpoena or memorandum of understanding exists. The DAS system is headquartered in a lower Manhattan office tower in a command-and-control center staffed around the clock by both New York police and "private stakeholders."

Read more about the data collection, uses and privacy guidelines detailed in a city document here.

PC World reports a member of the privacy advocacy group expressing concern that such a program could lead to "routine, unconstitutional warrantless surveillance":

It is scandalous for Microsoft and the NYPD to describe location data from license plate readers and surveillance cameras as "public safety data", said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an email. "If you drive a car, the history of where you drive it reveals numerous intimate facts about your life. All of this information about New Yorkers is now going to be hoovered up without consent, accountability, or judicial oversight."

Still, Bloomberg attempted to dispel concerns such as this saying the technology used in the system is something the private sector has employed for some time, according to Gothamist:

"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 got a look inside the headquarters that will be monitoring information coming through this system. Below are a few of those photos, but be sure to check them all out here.

The NYPD has also been under fire for surveillance of Muslim communities and partnering with the CIA to track potential terror suspects. Muslim groups have sued to shut down the NYPD programs.

Kelly defended the policies as key to thwarting 14 terror plots against the city since the attacks of Sept. 11th.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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