NYPD and Microsoft's DAS... Coordinated Surveillance and Crime Data

A new system of coordination and analysis of surveillance and crime data has been put in place in New York’s Lower Manhattan Security Initiative Command Center. Using software named “Domain Awareness System,” or “DAS,” the platform is a way for the New York Police Department (NYPD) to have and use a consolidated system for the collecting and accessing of crime and counter-terrorism data in real time and near real time. 

Having surveillance cameras, sensors, crime reports, license plate scans, and other security methodologies yields data collected by public and private sources, but analyzing, coordinating and simplifying the ease-of-use of all that information can prove time consuming and even difficult. To enhance analysis, the NYPD worked with Microsoft to develop a system that would amalgamate and blend the wide variety of data sources into one single “dashboard.” The Domain Awareness System was the result. 

Data from license plate readers, radiation detectors, 9-1-1 calls, public or private surveillance cameras, criminal records, incident reports, and predictive analytics can now all be organized chronologically in an easy-to-access and use format of words, maps or other interpretive means for aggregation and analysis. (Microsoft has become a leading source for integrated intelligence solutions for police and security.) New York spent approximately $40 million for the system that will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The city currently has more than 3,000 public and private surveillance cameras. At present, closed-circuit surveillance cameras are deployed in such locations as the city’s financial district, midtown Manhattan, and key transportation points (bridges, tunnels, certain streets, etc.). The city also currently has about 2,600 radiation detectors in place to detect contamination and to help identify whether a radiation contamination alarm is from such sources as actual radiation, industrial use, a weapon or medical use, and whether the threat posed is dangerous or not. DAS takes such data and integrates it for easier analysis so police cannot only access the data, but also improve and direct proper deployment and response.            

DAS also allows more refinement of leads and identifying patterns. That can be useful information for identifying and apprehending suspects, and for responding to incidents.  Investigators will have such capabilities as watching live video feeds; seeing suspect arrest records; finding 9-1-1 calls associated with a suspect or an address; learning related crimes in a precinct, borough or beyond; or identifying suspicious packages and noting who may have left such packages.

In addition, DAS also makes possible the mapping of criminal history geo-spatially and chronologically to reveal and define crime patterns. Databases can be used to map, review or correlate information with the deployment of police resources. “Layers” of real-time crime analysis of misdemeanors and felonies can be displayed along with access to other databases for information (criminal and/or public domain) about a suspect.  

DAS is also intended to be a counter-terrorism tool to facilitate the observation of pre-operational activity by terrorist organizations or their agents, aid in detecting preparations to conduct terrorist attacks, deter such attacks, reduce incident response time, and create a common technological infrastructure to support the integration of existing and new security technology.  

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly stated, “This is a system developed for police officers, by police officers. They worked with the developers at Microsoft in countless hours of focus groups. And the result of this joint effort is a tool that meets the needs of the department, one that will help protect New Yorkers, and keep us safe from crime and terrorism for years to come.”

The city will receive 30 percent of revenue generated by licensing the Domain Awareness System to other cities purchasing it from Microsoft. Thus, New York should someday recoup its investment in the system and perhaps even make some profit from it in the future. Microsoft will market DAS systems to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

DAS marks the first time Microsoft is sharing revenue with a public sector customer that created the software for its own use. In essence, NYPD provided the input of an operational framework and ideas for the officers’ needs, but Microsoft provided the information technology needed to bring it to reality. DAS incorporates other Microsoft components such as SharePoint and Virtual Earth. 

Of course, there are concerns about individual privacy rights, warrantless or inappropriate activities by the police, and other potential civil rights violations stemming from DAS.  To help ensure appropriate privacy protection in the use of data and metadata (information collected by DAS that increases the usefulness of all the data), the NYPD has policy in place that the data will be used only in furtherance of legitimate law enforcement and public safety purposes. 

Further, no person will be targeted or monitored solely because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, age, citizenship status, gender, or other such factors or classifications. DAS will be used to monitor public areas and public activities; in other words, places where there is generally no legally protected, reasonable expectation of privacy. In addition, facial recognition technology is not utilized in DAS. 

The policy developed for DAS prescribes that data gathered will be destroyed at the end of the relevant pre-archival period, and any decision to retain certain data possessing evidentiary or other value beyond that pre-archival period must be approved and documented in writing by an authorized agent (e.g. the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Counter-terrorism, or Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters). 

The pre-archival period for video is 30 days. The pre-archival period for metadata and license-plate recognition data is five years. However, environmental data will be retained indefinitely (environmental data meaning data collected by devices that detect hazards related to terrorist threats). 

Limits on data sharing are also set by the NYPD policy. For example, video, metadata, LPR data or environmental data may only be used for law enforcement or public safety purposes except as required by legal/court process. The data will not be otherwise disclosed by the NYPD. The authorized agent for the data must approve any third parties seeking to use data in furtherance of purposes consistent with the NYPD policy. Physical access to the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center is limited and security measures are in place including such steps as access logs, locked facilities, and badge or access card entry.

The idea behind DAS is not new, but the unique partnership and revenue sharing between Microsoft and its NYPD client is. A dashboard system is in use by the Lowell, Mass. Police Department. It began as a pilot program to develop the software necessary to make iPads tools for law enforcement for mobile computing. The department partnered with Apple and with Zco Corporation (www.zco.com) to develop and run “PolicePad,” an application that displays data to officers without the necessity of the officers having to touch the screen of the device. 

The databases include information on warrants, drivers, maps, criminal history, and history of calls at a particular street address. (A version for the fire service is FireTab.)    Baltimore and certain cities in the United Kingdom also have similar systems in place, but the New York DAS has now become one of the largest such systems in known use.

Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at drss12@msn.com.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2012

Rating : 9.0

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