The rhetoric in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings is starting to recall the heightened fear that took hold after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. That's especially true in New York City, where the suspected bombers were allegedly planning a second attack.
In a press conference yesterday, both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly used the suspects' alleged plot to make the case for more surveillance cameras. "You’re never going to know where all of our cameras are," Bloomberg said. "And that’s one of the ways you deter people; they just don’t know whether the person sitting next to you is just somebody sitting there or a detective watching."
Kelly promised that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is expanding its already massive network of cameras. The number of public sector surveillance cameras in New York City is reportedly between 3,500 and 6,000. In an interview earlier this week, Kelly praised the network of "smart cameras" that allow police to remotely read licenses and recognize suspicious packages.
The cameras are part of the NYPD's elite surveillance system, developed by Microsoft over a three year period. It's known as The Domain Awareness System or simply "the dashboard," with the total costs reportedly between $30 million and $40 million.
The dashboard aggregates data from cameras, mapped crime patterns, 911 alerts, arrest records, parking tickets, and radiation detectors, and it's getting smarter all the time. The cameras can detect when a bag or package is abandoned in a public place, Kelly toldMSNBC earlier this week, and he hopes to expand this capability, which he refers to as "video analytics."
The NYPD is almost certainly the most advanced police department in the country, even expanding to include overseas bureaus in the years since the terrorist attacks on September 11th. However, other cities and even other countries have taken note of the Domain Awareness System. Police departments in other cities, as well as law enforcement and large events outside the US, have approached Microsoft about licensing the software.
There are questions as to whether surveillance cameras actually prevent attacks: Boston's relatively extensive network of cameras still failed to catch the bombers in the act or dissuade them from their crime. The extensiveness and sophistication of the NYPD's surveillance network also has the American Civil Liberties Union and other public rights advocates worried, but Kelly believes standards of privacy are changing. "The privacy issue has really been taken off the table," he said. "I don’t think people are concerned about it. I think people accept it in a post-9/11 world."
Kelly's sense of conviction is reminiscent of Mayor Bloomberg's statement on the use of drones to monitor civilians: "get used to it."