Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

Does Oakland Really Need a High-Tech 'Domain Awareness Center'? Evidence Suggests Surveillance Doesn't Do Much to Affect Crime Rates

There are growing concerns about a project in the works to bring cutting-edge surveillance to a city plagued with old-fashioned crime.

Oakland, California, a city known as a hotbed of progressive politics, is about to deal a major blow to its residents' privacy rights in a very high-tech 21st-century way. Recently, Oakland City Council approved the next phase in building a Domain Awareness Center (DAC) for domestic surveillance. This push for high-tech surveillance comes in the midst of growing evidence that suggests it has little effect on crime rates, according to recent studies from organizations like the ACLU and the Urban Institute.

The DAC will aggregate and monitor video feeds and real-time data from  nearly 1,000 cameras and sensors aimed at anyone, including those not suspected of any wrongdoing, throughout Oakland. This includes cameras and sensors at the Oakland port, on the highway, in schools, and other locations. Additionally, the DAC will analyze the aggregate data with other software, such as license plate recognition, thermal imaging, social media feeds, gunshot detectors, and other information along with 24/7 monitoring and geospatial security mapping. It will also store and allow sharing of data. Initially, it was planned for  planned for the protection of the Port of Oakland, which is one of the busiest ports in the country. But since the project began in 2009, plans have shifted to cover the entire city. 

On July 30, Oakland City Council  unanimously approved a $2 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security for Phase 2 in building the surveillance system. The total project will cost $10.9 million through DHS grants. 

Science Applications International Corporation, a military contractor, was selected as the company to build the surveillance system earlier in the process. Recently, however, it was  revealed that Science Applications International Corp. was connected to nuclear weapons. Oakland's Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance, passed in 1988, prohibits the city from doing business with companies that "knowingly engage in nuclear weapons work". 

The meeting in November was to decide on whether to give the $2 million grant to a new vendor. In a vote of 6 to 1, Oakland City Council  approved the next step. The lone opposition vote came from Councilmember Lynette McElhaney. With this move, the city will choose from four contractors to build the surveillance system: Schneider Electric, Motorola Solutions, G4S, and GTSI. However, after a background check on these companies, East Bay Express  reported that "all of them have obtained nuclear weapons related contracts from branches of the US military or from the US Department of Energy."

More than an hour before the meeting commenced, a crowd of around 80 to 100 people gathered outside Oakland City Council to rally against the DAC. Their opposition stemmed from concerns over how the surveillance system would violate the privacy rights of Oakland residents.  

At 6:30 p.m., the protesters marched into city council to voice their opposition to the DAC. Out of the 150 people who signed up to speak at the city council meeting, between 70 and 80 wanted to discuss surveillance. Protesters held a mic check in the middle of the meeting, around 9:00 p.m., criticizing the city council for pushing the DAC agenda item back. Yet, that issue still was tabled until the end of the meeting, well past 2:00 a.m. By then, many people left because they could not stay out that late. They had to wake up early the next day, go to work, or take care of other responsibilities. Further compounding this is the fact that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the Bay Area's commuter rail system, does not run 24 hours. The last train runs at around 12:30 a.m.Additionally,  reporters were kicked out by Oakland  police when city council discussed the DAC agenda item. 

This is not the first time Oakland City Council stalled a contentious issue until the end of a meeting. At the July 30 meeting, the last time DAC was discussed, the issue was pushed back until late at night. Dee, a homeless Oakland resident who's been involved with civil liberties organizing and Occupy Oakland, explained "Usually, they'll [Oakland City Council] will put it at the end of the agenda. So that way, nobody wants to stay till the end. And if people do sign up, of the people who organized against that sort of thing, the numbers are going to die down as it continues, as the night goes on." This tactic makes it easier for the City Council to pass a controversial measure with dampened public opposition. 

See more stories tagged with: