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NYPD, Microsoft Push Big Data Policing Into Spotlight

Domain Awareness System poses a force to be reckoned with for NYC criminals; surveillance system likely coming soon to other cities.
A recent study by the Urban Institute found that camera-based systems effectively reduce crime rates, though it claims that not all geographies or offenses are impacted equally.

Many enterprises outside the law enforcement arena are interested in the tech found in surveillance tools. It's hard to say, for instance, who has more interest in facial recognition and biometrics--the FBI, or Facebook. DAS is likely to join the group of tools that appeal to both public and private concerns. Vexcel VP Mosher said that "DAS was built with enterprises in mind." He noted that multiple Microsoft technologies are part of the system, including SQL Server, FAST Search, SharePoint, Virtual Earth Server, and some .NET framework code--underlying capabilities that provide "the built-in ability to instrument almost all aspects of data and sensor feeds for data integrity or other types of operational events and to automatically send alerts."

Mosher claimed that the NYPD's DAS implementation was customer-specific and that the system can be modified to suit the needs of other jurisdictions or enterprises. Facial recognition, for example, is not supported in the NYPD model, but "this is less of a technology capability issue," wrote Mosher, "and more of a customer requirement issue in accordance with [the buyer's] policies." He also said that scalability is not an issue: "We already have a capability that scales down for bandwidth constrained environments where live video feeds are not feasible--and the intent is to have several 'off the shelf' versions with differing data feeds or sensor inputs that are tailored to smaller justice and public safety customers," he wrote.

Mosher said that DAS costs will depend on the level of customization required, with base products similar to the NYPD system being available at somewhat reduced costs. However, "we are talking about millions [of dollars] for a full-blown system," he wrote.

DAS implementation will likely face some legal challenges. Robert Weissberg, a law professor at Stanford, said in a phone interview that he believes DAS is legal but that alerts from its extremely sensitive radiation sensors might inadvertently reveal otherwise undetectable medical conditions of patients undergoing certain procedures--a potential Fourth Amendment violation.

The issue of tracking citizens, meanwhile, is already moving through the courts. United States v. Jones saw the Supreme Court rule earlier this year that authorities cannot place GPS devices on vehicles without first obtaining a warrant. A decision last week from the U.S. Court of Appeals, however, determined that police do not need a warrant to track suspect locations via pay-as-you-go-cellphones. Tracking individuals of interest is markedly different from tracking all motorists in a geographic area, of course, but these cases demonstrate the ongoing legal seesaw surrounding the use of emerging technologies.

Notwithstanding putative legal hurdles, the future of police work almost certainly involves big data tools. "The bad guys have everything that we do, too," said Bloomberg during the press conference. "And if you really want to worry about security and freedoms, that's the first thing."

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