Microsoft, NYPD venture aids city security

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks with the media. (July 11, 2012) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

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A joint NYPD-Microsoft Corp. venture disclosed over the weekend will allow police to tie their anti-terrorism surveillance and crime-fighting technologies to a variety of databases, effectively allowing the city to extend its security shield, law enforcement and security officials said Monday.

At the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday, police Commissioner Ray Kelly briefly mentioned the venture to industry leaders and said Mayor Michael Bloomberg would formally discuss the innovative "domain awareness system."

The system will link license-plate readers, thousands of security cameras and other sensors being used in zones like the lower Manhattan security area and midtown with law enforcement databases, said a city official with knowledge of the system who didn't want to be identified.

But the large reach of the system is troubling to civil libertarians, who weren't aware the city was planning such a large data and intelligence gathering project.

"The NYPD and Microsoft appear to be teaming up to collect massive amounts of information about New Yorkers and yet the public has next to no details, there have been no hearings and no one has even mentioned privacy," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

She added that the NYCLU will file a freedom of information request to find out about the project.

A spokesman for Microsoft deferred comments Monday to the police department, which had no official comment.

The term "domain awareness" is actually a military expression -- another way of describing a command center filled with people assigned to analyze all kinds of data that may impact security, said John Halsema, a security expert who has written about the subject.

"One huge advantage of doing that is that you have people whose jobs is to process this information," said Halsema, senior vice president of Rolta International in Alpharetta, Ga., a security technology firm.

Kelly on Saturday said that the city hopes to be able to market the software in conjunction with Microsoft.

"It is a military-style solution that works very well and it is very attractive to do that in the city," Halsema said. "The problem is it is really hard [to operate and interpret]."

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Queens), head of the public safety committee, was unaware of the NYPD venture but said Monday he would learn more at future hearings.

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