Domain Awareness System Scarily Resembles Big Brother (For Profit)


New York City recently decided it wasn’t happy with surveillance technology currently on the market, and decided to partner with Microsoft to create a Big Brother-like surveillance network, the Domain Awareness System, to meet the city’s "needs." The extent to which the citizens of New York City will be watched after the implementation of the new software is disturbing on its own, but it's also disturbing that the city will be selling the software to other administrations for a profit.

The system is extremely extensive, and incorporates 3,500 plus cameras in public places, license plate readers at every major Manhattan entry point, real-time alerts from the 911 emergency system, fixed and portable radiation detectors, and scores of police department records including arrests and parking summons.

This will allow the police to quickly collate vast amounts of data all at once to centralize crime reporting as it happens – which sounds more like a dystopian science fiction novel than real life. To be clear, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg realizes this, he just doesn’t care. 

"You wait, in five years, the technology is getting better, they’ll be cameras everyplace ... whether you like it or not," Bloomberg said last Friday at a press conference. "The argument against using automation is just this craziness that 'Oh, it’s Big Brother.' Get used to it!"

So, there isn’t even an argument here. It’s Big Brother alright, Bloomberg just wants us to accept that and move on with our lives. I guess that’s the price we pay for living in the posh city of New York and getting to call ourselves "New Yorkers" – along with high taxes, apartments the size of tea saucers, and constantly being told how unhealthy we all are

But aside from just generally being a huge expansion of government power, this raises red flags as it pushes the limit of government as motivated by public good and government as motivated by profit. The city, obviously proud of its creation, is planning on selling it to other "authorities" and already has some interested buyers – though neither the city nor Microsoft will say who they are.

?The interest from the United States has come from smaller municipalities, from sheriff’s departments, and police chiefs from several major cities," said Dave Mosher, vice president of Microsoft Services told the New York Times. "Outside the U.S., large sporting events have approached us, and also law enforcement — people who are interested in providing public security."

Buyers would pay to access the software at a price of several million dollars or more, depending on the size of the jurisdiction and whether program customization is involved, and NYC would get a 30% cut of the profits. According to the Times, revenue will be directed "to counterterrorism and crime prevention programs."

… In other words, more surveillance. 

So, this program, which is already an obvious privacy concern to begin with, will feed itself. The city has quite literally created a privacy monster that grows up all on its own and gives the city a reason to keep on fanning the flame. All the while, we have released this monster onto other cities, whose citizens are now under the same irrational scrutiny by their leaders as the citizens of New York. 

Let’s assume for a minute that New York City has the best of intentions and has no plan to go nuts and blatantly violate our rights – what about the people they are selling this very potentially dangerous product to? What would other governments not limited by the same constitutional protections as American citizens do with this kind of power? We may never know, especially since it seems like they have no intention of telling us who the buyers even are.

New York City is wading into uncharted waters — turbulent ones. Technology like this is Big Brother, and that Brother’s name is Michael Bloomberg. You only need to read 1984 to see how that turned out.