[News] Oakland surveillance center raises concerns - widespread monitoring by Cops

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 18 10:54:13 EDT 2013

    Oakland surveillance center raises concerns

      Move for widespread monitoring by law enforcement raises concern

Ali Winston, Center for Investigative Reporting

July 18, 2013

As Oakland is rocked by renewed street protests and national attention 
focuses on government monitoring of phone and e-mail records, city 
officials are considering a federally funded project to funnel 
information from surveillance cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot 
detectors and other devices into a law enforcement-run center.

The Domain Awareness Center, a joint project between the Port of Oakland 
and the city, started as a nationwide initiative to secure ports by 
connecting motion sensors and cameras in and around the shipping 
facilities. Since its inception in 2009, however, the project has 
evolved into a program that would cover much of the city.

On Tuesday evening, the Oakland City Council was expected to approve an 
additional $2 million in federal grants to fund the surveillance center 
at the Emergency Operations Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. But 
after an outcry from speakers about the center's lack of privacy 
guidelines or data retention limits, the council pulled the item from 
the consent calendar and postponed a vote until July 30.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks noted that the consent calendar is normally 
reserved for routine matters. She said funding the surveillance center 
"clearly, is very controversial."

Renee Domingo, the city's director of emergency services, said the 
city's public safety challenges and the sprawling nature of the port - 
which also operates Oakland International Airport - had prompted 
officials to design an "all-hazards system" capable of helping law 
enforcement respond to crime, terrorism and disasters such as earthquakes.

      Cameras and Twitter

The center would integrate computer dispatch systems for the Oakland 
police and fire departments, gunshot detection microphones and 
license-plate readers. It would use crime-mapping software and video 
cameras, private alarm detection programs, and even Twitter feeds to 
help police and emergency personnel draw up a "more effective incident 
response," Ahsan Baig, the city's information technology manager, told 
the City Council's Public Safety Committee this month.

Right now, there are 130 cameras from the Port of Oakland and four city 
cameras integrated into the surveillance center. Seventy-five of the 
port cameras are equipped with motion or image recognition technology.

Key to the operation is a geographic information system map with points 
representing cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detection and alarm 
sensors and other devices that feed into a central network. Multiple 
camera feeds, sensor indicators and maps can be viewed at one time 
alongside alerts from government agencies.

For the Fire Department, such a system would greatly expand its ability 
to get a handle on a crisis. Battalion Chief Darin White pointed to a 
fiery tanker crash on Interstate 880 in 2008 that spilled 1,000 gallons 
of fuel and prompted a large emergency response.

Reneé Domingo, Oakland's Director of Emergency Services, in the main 
room at the Domain Awareness Center in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, July 
16, 2013. The DAC will soon combine emergency data and information sets 
from city police, fire, the Port of Oakland, among others in 2014.

In such situations, White said, the surveillance center "will be able to 
see and have real-time situational awareness as they're responding to an 

      Police usage

Former New York and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton suggested 
that the Oakland Police Department make use of the surveillance project 
in a report in May on improving investigations. He recommended that 
police "significantly increase" their use of surveillance cameras in 
commercial areas "to provide identifications and evidence in robbery, 
burglary and some shooting cases. Cameras would be monitored and 
recorded at the Domain Awareness Center that is currently under 

That prospect, however, has some people concerned. Joshua Daniels, one 
of the speakers during Tuesday night's council meeting, said the 
surveillance center would give a great deal of power to a police 
department that "doesn't respect the rights" of Oakland residents.

"This city has a huge trust issue," Daniels said, "and it's not going to 
be solved by spying on your citizens."

      Other agencies

The $2 million grant that the council is considering would incorporate 
into the surveillance center sensors and cameras from outside agencies 
such as Caltrans, the Oakland Unified School District, the O.co Coliseum 
and Oracle Arena, and regional law enforcement intelligence centers. 
Such agencies would need to sign agreements with the city and the port.

The Domain Awareness Center does not have privacy guidelines or limits 
for retaining the data it collects, raising concerns from civil 
libertarians and privacy advocates.

Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of 
Northern California, called the surveillance center "a classic 
illustration of mission creep."

"What are the limits on dissemination?" Lye asked. "And what are the 
privacy and safety protocols for handling this information internally 
and through outside agencies?"

Baig, the city's information technology manager, said officials will 
draw up guidelines on privacy and data retention during the next year. 
Because the surveillance center would draw on different types of sensors 
and cameras, Baig said, drafting such policies would be a complex process.

      Reacting to protests

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier 
Foundation, said the level of unrest Oakland has experienced in recent 
years made the issue an easy sell to the city. But Tien said he is 
concerned that the center lacks guidelines about data use or retention.

"There's no indication they've considered any privacy or civil liberties 
issue in the first place," Tien said.

Officials expect to have the center up and running by mid-2014. A 
sergeant and an analyst from the Police Department, as well as someone 
from the Port of Oakland, would work there. The city and port are 
applying for another federal grant of $2.6 million to fund these positions.

City documents indicate the projected cost is roughly $10.9 million in 
federal grant funding. To date, $3.4 million in federal grants has been 
spent on the project.

The independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting is the 
country's largest investigative reporting team. For more, visit 
www.cironline.org <http://www.cironline.org>. E-mail: info at cironline.org 
<mailto:info at cironline.org>

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