Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:17 PM ET
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today at a press conference that the city's police force has been collaborating with Microsoft on a new system that analyzes public safety data streams in real time.
Speaking from the city's Lower Manhattan Security Command Center, Mayor Bloomberg explained that the joint effort between the NYPD and Microsoft would essentially leverage existing counterterrorism measures in the effort to combat everyday crime.
The Domain Awareness System taps into existing data, such as video surveillance feeds and 911 calls, and analyzes them in real time. Examples of its applications include immediate notification regarding suspicious packages and vehicles, tracking a car's location over a number of months, and improving deployment of emergency services.
The city has thousands of cameras, more than a hundred license plate readers, and has now deployed 2600 radiation detectors with officers on patrol. Anything from a 911 call to a suspiciously parked vehicle to a license plate on a watch list will alert people monitoring the system, and resources can be deployed immediately. Records and reports that mention a piece of data like a license or address will immediately be displayed as well.
It could reasonably be called an all-seeing surveillance system, but there are some limitations. It doesn't use facial recognition, for instance, though that is not a technical limitation — it could be implemented later on. Social media is not monitored closely. And any video captured will be deleted after 30 days unless it is officially archived.
But it isn't just about surveillance: It's a modernization of the immense amount of data produced by the city's law enforcement department. Records of calls, complaints, arrests and so on have been digitized, geotagged and cross-referenced to be instantly accessible and easily browseable.
Microsoft executed the system, but it was the NYPD that had to design it, choosing what data needed to be surfaced and when, and how it could best be presented to officers. As such, it is a true joint effort, and New York will be taking 30 percent of the revenues Microsoft gets from licensing the technology. Other cities will surely want to utilize this powerful system, so it's possible that, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, both parties will "we think we can recoup all our expenses over a period of time, and maybe even make a few bucks"
The system is just getting its official debut today, but it has been in use to some degree for six months now, said NYC police commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Bloomberg cautioned that they were not attempting to automate law enforcement, but that this was primarily an improvement of the tools officers and administrators use: "Cameras are not a replacement for a good cop on the street using his eyes and ears, or her eyes and ears, and judgment."
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.