If you ever find yourself plotting a crime in New York City, take heed: thanks to the Domain Awareness System (DAS), a new surveillance tool co-developed by Microsoft and the NYPD, you'll probably be in handcuffs before you've even made it to the getaway car.
And if moving your criminal enterprise to another city seems like a solution, you'd better act fast. The tool will be expanding to other cities soon.
DAS was officially unveiled and demonstrated at a press conference earlier this month. Its capabilities offer real-time aggregation of numerous law enforcement databases and a variety of environmental data sources that include: 3,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in lower and midtown Manhattan; 2,600 radiation detectors carried by officers throughout the city; and several hundred license plate readers mounted on police cars and deployed at bridges, tunnels, and streets.
[ To say GPS data tracking is a legal gray area is an understatement. See 7 Facts About Geolocation Privacy. ]
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly claimed that the system's power comes from not only the nexus of information but also the system's intuitive visual interface, which orients content in geographic and chronological contexts. Articles have widely compared the user interface (UI) to the one used by officers in the film Minority Report, and though DAS lacks the gesture-based controls seen in Spielberg's film, the system--which Kelly called "one-stop shopping for investigators"--otherwise lives up to the sci-fi allusion.
The network of license-plate scanners, for example, allows the system to compare scanned plates against a variety of watch lists. When the system registers a match, it brings up not only the vehicle's current location but also its past known whereabouts, empowering officers to define travel patterns or deduce the suspect's home base. It also considers all other plates that have ever been scanned in the vicinity of the target vehicle within a 60-second window, allowing officers to determine if a culprit might be part of a larger, theretofore unknown caravan. The result is a more efficient allocation of field resources and responses times so fast that many suspects will be nabbed before they even know they're being pursued.
Entrepreneurial-minded New York mayor Michael Bloomberg praised DAS an example of what the public and private spheres can accomplish together. Such collaborations are becoming a trend in his administration; Goldman Sachs recently invested in the city's jail programs and could potentially profit if recidivism falls.
The partnership with Microsoft includes a novel twist in that New York will receive a 30% commission whenever a DAS package is sold. Bloomberg expressed hope that Microsoft will "make a lot of money" selling the system, as New York's 30% cut could enable the city to not only recoup its investment costs, estimated at $30-40 million, but perhaps even turn a profit. This is the first time the computing titan has engaged in such a profit-sharing model, said Dave Mosher, VP of program management for Microsoft's Vexcel subsidiary, in an email.
Early indications are that Bloomberg might get his wish. Mosher claimed that the "response beyond New York City has been pretty amazing since we went public with this." He wrote that "the market for justice and public safety is real" and claimed that discussions are coming not only from the expected major metropolitan areas but also from smaller cities, as well as private organizations with public safety mandates, such as stadiums and universities. Inquiries, he said, have come from both the U.S. and abroad.
DAS becomes one of the most visible big data solutions employed by increasingly tech-friendly police forces. Recent examples are numerous. The San Francisco Police Department--with the help of the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, whose members include around 90% of the city's tech companies--built a Web-based database infrastructure replete with an app that lets officers access the system and file reports with tablets and smartphones. Bay Area neighbor Santa Cruz effectively reduced burglary rates with a predictive algorithm that Time magazine listed among the Top 50 Inventions of 2012. And London's famously robust jungle of CCTV cameras, which includes facial recognition technology, has become such a ubiquitous talking point that the 2012 Olympics included surveillance-themed mascots.