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NYPD, Microsoft Unveil New Surveillance System for Fighting Crime

The new tracking system allows investigators to instantly pool information, reveal patterns and map crimes

The New York City Police Department and Microsoft Corp. unveiled on Wednesday a new tracking tool designed jointly by both agencies that will provide investigators with real-time crime alerts.

The Domain Awareness System pools and then quickly analyzes information from a variety of information sources critical to crime solving, including security cameras, arrest records, license plate readers, sensors, radiation detectors and 911 calls.

"Microsoft provided the technical and engineering muscle, but NYPD personnel were the architects of this new system," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference announcing the new tool.

The new system, which will cost an estimated $30 to $40 million, will be able to map suspects' movements and provide NYPD investigators and analysts with real-time crime alerts in one centralized location. 

The tool doesn't add any new surveillance technology. Instead, it combines existing technology in a new way. For example, a 911 report of a suspicious package could quickly trigger a review of a nearby security camera.

There are about 3,000 closed-circuit television cameras connected to the Domain Awareness System, most of which are located in lower and midtown Manhattan, along with 2,600 radiation detectors carried by officers deployed at bridges, tunnels and streets, Bloomberg said.

If the system is successful, Microsoft and NYPD plan to market DAS to other cities, with New York City receiving 30 percent of any revenue.

"The system allows us to connect the dots by instantly tapping into the details of crime records, 911 calls, license plate readers, videotape footage and more," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at the news conference, held inside the department's Lower Manhattan Security Initiative headquarters.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberty Union, expressed concern that such a new system has the potential for abuse and therefore should have strict privacy protections and independent oversight.

"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 Dunn.

Mr. Bloomberg said the city conducts surveillance within legal guidelines and points out that buildings have long used security cameras, and cellphone companies track users' movements. "That's just something you're going to have to learn to deal with," he said.

What do you think? Will this new surveillance system be an effective tool for fighting crime or lead to further infringement upon citizens' privacy.

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