Ignoring the concerns surrounding data collection and privacy, Oakland continues to push forward with their federally funded, citywide surveillance project known as the Domain Awareness Center.
The project in Oakland will link everything from ever-controversial license plate scanners to surveillance cameras to gunshot detectors, Twitter feeds, and more.
It began as a joint project between the city and the Port of Oakland, part of a nationwide initiative to make ports more secure by placing and networking cameras and other sensors around the port.
In total, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made $150 million available as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Port Security Grant Program. The Port of Oakland is one of the seven “highest risk” ports which were allocated a total of $81.4 million.
Since the program began in 2009, it went from something focusing only on the ports, to a citywide, massive surveillance program.
Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, apparently agrees, calling the center “a classic illustration of mission creep.”
Lye also opposed the Alameda County Sheriff’s proposed purchase of a drone earlier this year.
Unsurprisingly, some city officials have already floated the idea of linking the system to what Ali Winston calls “a regional Department of Homeland Security intelligence-gathering operation,” which sounds much like a DHS fusion center. Others have proposed linking feeds from surveillance cameras around the Oakland stadium and arena complex.
While the project continues to move forward, the Oakland City Council has been slowed down by public outcry, at least somewhat.
On July 23, the council was expected to approve another $2 million in federal grant money which would fund the construction of the Oakland Emergency Operations Center’s surveillance center.
The grant would fund the integration of sensors and cameras from a wide variety of agencies into the Domain Awareness Center. Those agencies would range from the Oakland Unified School District to the California Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to the O.co Coliseum and Oracle arena.
Winston also mentions that “regional law enforcement intelligence centers” will be included, which sounds very much like fusion centers.
Thanks to the public’s concerns about the center’s lack of privacy guidelines or data retention limits, the vote on the item was postponed until July 30.
The item was originally on the consent calendar, something which Councilwoman Delsey Brooks criticized.
“Consent items are supposed to be noncontroversial,” Brooks said. “Clearly, it is very controversial.”
Much of this controversy is over the fact that as of now, the Oakland Domain Awareness Center has nothing in terms of privacy guidelines or limits on how long it can retain data or what kinds of data it can retain.
“What are the limits on dissemination?” asked Lye. “And what are the privacy and safety protocols for handling this information internally and through outside agencies?”
Currently, they don’t exist. Ahsan Baig, Oakland’s information technology manager, said that they would develop guidelines on privacy and data retention over the coming year.
Drafting such policies will be complex due to the massive number of cameras and numerous other types of sensors, according to Baig.
Still, the city is asking to get even more money without even the most basic of guidelines in place, something which is hardly comforting for the people of Oakland.
Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that while it will be an easy sell due to the unrest seen in Oakland, there are major problems.
“There’s no indication they’ve considered any privacy or civil liberties issue in the first place,” Tien said.
He contrasted the fact that Oakland’s facility is openly focusing on the city, while other centers are focused on looking at the water.
“This would integrate city and port surveillance with private surveillance, as well as the CCTV (closed-circuit television) feeds monitoring children in Oakland schools,” said Mary Madden, an activist with Alameda County Against Drones. “How this will help protect the port, I have no idea.”
The center is expected to be unveiled in mid-2014 and is expected to cost around $10.9 million in federal grant funding, according to city documents. An additional $2.6 million is being sought by the city and the port to fund the people who will work at the center.
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