NYC Mayor Bloomberg unveils new for-profit mass surveillance system
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has unveiled a new crime-fighting system developed with Microsoft — and revealed that the city will take a cut of the profits if it is sold to other administrations.
The innovation, which bears a passing resemblance to the futuristic hologram data screens used by Tom Cruise in the science fiction film Minority Report, will allow police to quickly collate and visualise vast amounts of data from cameras, licence plate readers, 911 calls, police databases and other sources.
It will then display the information in real time, both visually and chronologically, allowing investigators to centralise information about crimes as they happen or are reported. “It is a one-stop shop for law enforcement,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall press conference unveiling the new technology.
But, though it has many screens, maps, and flashing visuals that make it look like science fiction, the new technology has a distinctly un-Hollywood name: the Domain Awareness System. Developed by Microsoft engineers working with New York police officers, DAS will allow a host of activities to be carried out, such as spotting a suspicious vehicle and being able to track its recent movements or use cameras to track back and see who left a suspicious package.
It features live video feeds, huge databases of recent crime patterns and can take input direct from the field in real time via things like 911 calls or police radios. “All the information is presented visually and geographically and in chronological context,” said police commissioner Ray Kelly.
But there is more to the new system than just fighting crime in a city that has in recent decades shed a once fearsome reputation to become one of the safest big metropolitan areas in America. Part of the deal with Microsoft will result in the city of New York taking a 30% cut on any profits that the computer firm gets from selling the technology to other cities in America or around the world.
“Maybe we can make a few bucks,” Bloomberg said. “It is a great example of what the public and private sector can do to improve people’s lives when we work together.”
Such partnerships with the private sector, especially in sensitive areas like law enforcement, are not without their critics who are concerned about introducing a profit motive into the traditional domain of public social policy. But they are becoming a Bloomberg specialism.
He recently announced an agreement with investment bank Goldman Sachs to issue a loan, called a “social impact bond”, that will fund a scheme to cut re-offending rates among young people leaving New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail. If the scheme beats certain targets of youth behaviour Goldman could make several million dollars of profit.