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NYPD unveils computerized surveillance system

An NYPD police car.

An NYPD police car. Credit: Getty Images

A high-tech crime-fighting tool developed jointly with Microsoft -- already in use by the NYPD but formally introduced Wednesday -- lets officers instantly grab information from a vast web of video surveillance feeds citywide.

And while the New York Civil Liberties Union expressed unease over privacy concerns, the NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the software's ability to assess a potential threat, whether a package or vehicle, is crucial to preventing a terrorist attack and in helping to catch criminals.

"The system is a transformative tool because it was created by police officers for police officers," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly at a news conference Wednesday. His department aided Microsoft with the design.

The Domain Awareness System lets commanders immediately draw key data from live feeds to tell field officers who left a suspicious parcel, when it was placed and how long it had been there.

A network of about 3,000 cameras and 100 license plate readers has been installed over a large swath of lower and midtown Manhattan to guard against another terrorist attack. The information gathered from these surveillance tools is connected to the Microsoft system, which then compiles and analyzes the data.

What the new technology doesn't do, said NYCLU officials, is differentiate between real threats and New Yorkers going about their everyday lives.

"We fully support the police using technology to combat crime and terrorism, but law-abiding New Yorkers should not end up in a police database every time they walk their dog, go to the doctor or drive around Manhattan," said Christopher Dunn, the group's associate legal director. "The NYPD's massive surveillance systems should have strict privacy protections and independent oversight."

Use of the software, which has been in operation for the past six months, comes as the NYPD faces a lawsuit by Muslim groups who have criticized the department for conducting surveillance of members.

Kelly had said the department's policies, including the use of the latest high-tech software, has been key to thwarting more than a dozen terror plots against the city since the 9/11 attacks.

With a few clicks of a mouse, officers will be able to mine mountains of data, collate them and display the information in real time, both visually and chronologically. For example, police are able to track a vehicle as it moves around parts of the city. Officers tracking a suspect's vehicle can check the data to see where the it had traveled for the past few days, weeks or months.

"It is a one-stop shop for law enforcement," Bloomberg said.

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