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NYPD Reportedly Doesn't Backup Its Data

There’s an ongoing legal battle with the New York City Police Department, getting them to track money that police are seizing in forfeits. However, a city attorney told a judge in October that one of the reasons they can’t comply with this request is that their evidence database has no backup. Supposedly, if the database servers holding the evidence were to fail, all evidence would just vanish.

The Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Robert Messner, told the public safety committee last year that performing deep searches on the system would lead to crashes and delay the intake and release process. It was this reason that meant the department refused to give the data which accounts for the $6 million in property and cash that they seize every year.

Bronx Defenders, a group which are suing for access to the data, doubted the claims that they wouldn’t be able to produce the report. They claim, after reviewing the technical specifications of the hardware and software, that it would be feasible.

Arlene Bluth, Manhattan Supreme Court judge for the trial, said that the lack of backup was “insane” and that admitting they have no copy of the data deserves to be exposed in national newspapers.

After reporting on this news, Ars Technica received a message from NYPD Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis, where he said that the data is backed up continuously in multiple data centres.

This directly opposes the statement filed by city attorneys for the case, in which NYPD Director of Strategic Technology Programs Christian Schnedler said that there were currently no secondary or back-up systems for the data outside of the source.

It seems that while the system is replicated across multiple data centres, all copies of the system are actively being used. As such, if data was to get corrupt or one of the local centres had a failure, then it would inevitably lead to data loss.

Schnedler also aligns with Messner’s statements from last year, claiming that the system is so fragile that even using a web scraping tool to retrieve the data could compromise the system.

“The risk of introducing and running a generic Web scraping tool into a complex, functioning law enforcement database, which has no backup system, is to risk disrupting NYPD operations, corrupting and/or losing some or all of the data, without a way to retrieve it,” he said under oath.

It’ll be interesting to see how this particular story develops. There’s clearly differing opinions from within the NYPD as to what their technological capabilities actually are. Whether they are purposely trying to shy away from revealing their data remains to be seen – that’s for the court to decide.

If the NYPD’s incompetence should tell you anything, it’s that even top government organisations don’t properly consider their backup solutions. Don’t let this happen to you. Backups have all sorts of purposes – not only can they help you recover from a disaster, but it may also be a legal requirement depending on what type of data you’re holding.


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