It’s called the Domain Awareness System: 3,000 CCTV cameras positioned around Manhattan, a computer database that can track a particular car’s whereabouts for the past several months, and a network of radiation scanners. For New York City, the future of surveillance is here—and, according to an NYPD press conference on Wednesday, it’s been here for the past six months.
That’s right: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly held the press conference mainly to announce that the Domain Awareness System has already been operational for half a year. The project, which cost the New York City over $30 million, was developed in a joint venture with Microsoft, and the city will get a 30% cut of the profits when Microsoft sells similar surveillance packages to other cities.
The NYPD’s Public Security Privacy Guidelines [PDF] say “the ongoing threat of terrorist attack” on the city made the new surveillance system necessary. However, the document claims, “As with all NYPD operations, no person will be targeted or monitored by the Domain Awareness System solely because of actual or perceived race, color, religion or creed.”
This is unlikely to alleviate civil liberties concerns, especially given that the police department has a very recent history of ignoring those guidelines. Earlier this year, reports surfaced of an NYPD “demographics unit,” led by an ex-CIA officer, which conducted a massive surveillance operation on Muslim communities both inside and outside the city. And research conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union suggests that police stop-and-frisk stops in New York City disproportionately affect people of color by a significant margin.
“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 NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn in a statement. “The NYPD’s massive surveillance systems should have strict privacy protections and independent oversight.”
CCTV surveillance on such a large scale may be new to New York City, but across the pond, it has been the norm for years. The city of London has over one million CCTV cameras, though civil libertarians say the surveillance has not made the city any safer. In 2008, according to the Independent, the CCTV system solved only one crime per every 1,000 cameras in the London.