Microsoft and the New York Police Department (NYPD) have jointly developed a counter-terrorism and crime prevention system that will, for example, notify about suspicious packages and vehicles, and allow NYPD personnel to search for suspects using technologies like smart cameras and licence plate readers.
But privacy advocates are concerned about its implications.
The new Domain Awareness System (DAS) will be marketed by Microsoft to cities in the US and other parts of the world, with NYPD getting 30 percent of all revenue from sales of the system. Microsoft is required to provide to NYPD access to any innovation derived from the sale of the system to new customers.
"We think we can recoup all of of our expenses over a period of time, and maybe even make a few bucks," New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference on Wednesday from the Lower Manhattan Security Command Center, a counterterrorism centre. A video of the conference is available on the city's official website.
The new DAS system takes advantage of new policing software that allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gathered from existing technology, and help them respond more effectively, Bloomberg said.
"In other words, we are finding new ways to leverage already existing cameras, crime data, and other tools to support the work of our investigators, making it easier for them to determine if a crime is part of an ongoing pattern, and will allow the NYPD to better deploy its officers," he added.
Developed by police officers, detectives, and software developers working together, DAS aggregates and analyses existing "public safety data streams" in real time, including live camera feeds, 911 calls, and mapped crime patterns, providing NYPD investigators and analysts with a comprehensive view of potential threats and criminal activity, according to a statement.
The city has approximately 3,000 closed-circuit TV cameras connected to DAS. NYPD said it has begun to expand camera coverage to the boroughs outside Manhattan.
All the information is presented visually in geographical and chronological context, said police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
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 other data, according to the statement. The police can also track where a car associated with a suspect is located, and where it has been in past days, weeks or months.
DAS will be used only to monitor public areas and public activities where no legally protected reasonable expectation of privacy exists, according to guidelines that aim to establish policies and procedures to limit the authorised use of the system and to provide for limited access to and proper disposition of stored data. Facial recognition technology is not utilised by the DAS, it added. The DAS is described in the document as a counterterrorism tool, but data can be used for law enforcement and public safety purposes under certain conditions.
Privacy advocates wonder how the DAS will ensure that its users are not engaging in "routine, unconstitutional warrantless surveillance" of the New York population.
It is scandalous for Microsoft and the NYPD to describe location data from licence 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."