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Why We Oppose the Oakland Spy Center

By OAKLAND PRIVACY WORKING GROUP | CounterPunch | February 25, 2014

On March 4, 2014, the Oakland City Council will decide to award a contract that, if approved, will impact your civil rights. The Domain Awareness Center (“DAC”) is a full-time mass surveillance project encompassing the city and Port of Oakland and initially funded by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).  The Oakland Privacy Working Group opposes this project because city staff and the Oakland Police Department (“OPD”) have proven they can’t be trusted to oversee something this critical; furthermore it won’t solve crime, there is great potential for abuse of civil liberties, and the city cannot afford it.  The city has no data retention and privacy policy or oversight committee for the DAC, which is absurd when one considers the potential harm and past wrongdoing by the city.

The DAC will share live video and data with regional government, law enforcement, and as stated by Port Facilities Security Officer Mike O’Brien at the February 18, 2014 City Council meeting, “there is an expectation by the Feds that we will share information with them.”  Future proposed DAC phases include adding cameras at Oakland Unified School District buildings and throughout Oakland Housing Authority properties, automatic license plate readers, facial recognition software, and social media monitoring.  Strangely, Oakland Police Department (“OPD”) has suggested including planning, business, and property tax databases, which are unrelated to crime fighting.

We are being sold the line that the DAC will help solve Oakland’s crime problem, yet there is no data that proves mass surveillance does so.  And city staff has shown no interest in solving crimes with the DAC.  As stated by the East Bay Express in the Dec. 18, 2013 article “The Real Purpose of Oakland’s Surveillance Center, “While the emails reveal a great deal about the DAC, they are also notable for what they do not talk about … city staffers do not discuss any studies pertaining to the use of surveillance cameras in combating crime, nor do they discuss how the Domain Awareness System could help OPD with its longstanding problems with solving violent crimes. In more than 3,000 pages of emails, the terms ‘murder,’ ‘homicide,’ ‘assault,’ ‘robbery,’ and ‘theft’ are never mentioned.”

OPD can’t manage its resources and has a poor relationship with the community.  In a February 6, 2014 report by the city auditor, “OPD spent at least $1.87 million on technology that was never used or underused.”  According to OPD’s report to the Public Safety Committee at its September 2013 meeting, the city has over 650 homicide investigations with unexamined evidence, some cases going back seven years.  Alameda County has over 1,900 rape kits that have never been looked at.  In the same September 2013 meeting, OPD stated that it needed $1.2 million to increase staff at its crime lab, an amount that will now be usurped by the DAC’s estimated annual operating costs to the city of $1.6 million.

For 10+ years running, OPD has failed to comply with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement from the infamous Riders trial.  Yet, the City Council is poised to hand over to OPD the most advanced surveillance and tracking tools in history.  In her February 13, 2014 letter to the City Council, ACLU Nor-Cal staff attorney Linda Lye noted that “black people were twice as likely (68%) to be surveilled for ‘no obvious reasons’ than whites” by video surveillance systems.

City staff disregards Oakland’s contracting policies and cannot be trusted to oversee something more critical like our private data.  The work on Phase 1 was completed by SAIC, a contractor found to be in noncompliance with the City’s Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance (“NFZO”).  SAIC defrauded the city of New York on a payroll system contract, agreeing in 2012 to pay $500 million to avoid prosecution.  As revealed by internal city emails, Oakland city staff knew these facts prior to execution of the Phase 1 contract and concealed these facts from the City Council as SAIC received payment.  Unsurprisingly, SAIC overcharged the city on Phase 1.  In 2013 SAIC was exposed and prevented from pursuing the Phase 2 contract.  Noncompliance with the NFZO is also a problem for the staff-selected Phase 2 contractor.

Most importantly, ours is a civil rights movement.  The Bill of Rights codified our civil liberties.  The California Constitution has an express right to privacy.  Long-held legal doctrines such as freedom of speech, the press, and assembly and the requirement of due process and probable cause, form the basis of our civil society.  Many lives have been lost defending these rights.  The result of mass surveillance is a chilling effect upon legal activities, such as meeting in a public plaza or attending a mosque for worship in this post-9/11 world.

Oakland has in the past rejected mass surveillance, in 1997 and 1999.  Council member Henry Chang reflected on his decision to come to the United States, saying, “We came because we don’t want to be watched by Big Brother all the time.”  Council member Ignacio De La Fuente cast his no vote by citing a lack of evidence that cameras are effective in reducing crime and concluding that the program was not “worth the risk of violating people’s privacy rights.”

The DAC won’t reduce crime.  It is a financial boondoggle.  Staff and OPD have proven they cannot be trusted to oversee it.  Most importantly, the DAC will infringe upon our civil liberties.

Oakland Privacy Working Group can be reached through their website: oaklandprivacy.wordpress.com

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oakland activist allegedly fired after police tracked him at protest, alerted his employer

RT | October 29, 2013

An Oakland, CA activist says local police officers sent surveillance footage of him participating in a protest last week to his employer, resulting in his firing Monday.

The activist, who goes by @Anon4Justice on Twitter, tweeted the details Monday morning in what appears to be police use of surveillance footage in combination with private and public records that identified @Anon4Justice and led to his employer.

The activist had called in sick to work Friday to take part in a protest of Urban Shield, an expo for SWAT teams, military contractors and police officers from all over the world.

Urban Shield, coordinated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas. The event is partly a trade show for a myriad of militarized tactical gear and weapons, but there are also training exercises and war-game competitions that teams from California to Guam to Qatar took part in over the weekend. The exercises include protest suppression techniques and SWAT-team-raid simulations.

As the activist protested the militarized police event, paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, Oakland police produced surveillance footage of his participation in the demonstration and photos of his truck, which they sent to the his employer. The police called the employer, as well, to tell them though he said he was out sick, he was really taking part in a protest, which led to his firing.

The instance of @Anon4Justice’s tracking and firing, comes amid news that Oakland received $7 million, again from the Department of Homeland Security, for port security. Yet in addition to the use for ports, Oakland plans to spend the money on a vast surveillance “Domain Awareness Center,” as the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Privacy SOS blog pointed out Monday.

“From a central location, it will electronically gather data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, analyze that data and display some of the information on a bank of giant monitors,” the New York Times reported two weeks ago.

The city maintains the center will help reduce crime in a city that sees more than its share. Yet critics told the Times the program “will create a central repository of surveillance information” and “gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents,” calling into question the legality and ethics of such an operation.

As one Oakland City Council member told the Times, the center would have the capabilities to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on July 31 to adopt the plan to build the surveillance center, which officials have said will be staffed 24 hours a day. Lawmakers voted at the same meeting to ban hammers and spray paint cans at local protests in fear that the items will be used as weapons. Waiting outside, protesters admonished council members with chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The Times reported that this project is not the first time Oakland has sought to develop such technology. A city audit viewed by the paper revealed that lawmakers spent nearly $2 million in 2012 on police tools that did not work or could not be used for a variety of reasons.

The center will be operational by July 2014, and will eventually cost $10.9 million in federal grants, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Oakland has been the site of contentious, at times violent, confrontations between police and protesters in recent years, and beyond.

The City of Oakland and Alameda County agreed in June to settle a class action lawsuit by paying out $1.025 million to 152 people arrested in 2010 while protesting the leniency of sentence for a white transit officer who shot dead an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant.

Occupy Oakland and police clashed many times, most notably in late October, 2011 as Oakland police attempted to clear its encampment and disperse hundreds of protesters, later leading to Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen suffering a skull fracture caused by a non-lethal projectile shot by police.

Tear gas was also used on protesters during May Day 2012.

On top of the centralized surveillance operation, as Privacy SOS wrote, the allegations that surveillance data was used to undermine the exercise of free speech by @Anon4Justice could have a chilling effect among other activists.

“This kind of government action sends a chilling message to all Oakland residents: If you protest the police, they will use the powerful surveillance tools at their disposal to come after you and interfere with your life — regardless of whether or not you’ve done anything wrong.

“Was the compilation of photographs of @Anon4Justice part of the Urban Shield exercise the activist was protesting? Is it OPD policy to use photographs of people exercising their First Amendment rights to get them in trouble with their employers? Is this kind of McCarthyite political repression how Oakland residents — or the rest of the country — want their tax dollars spent?”

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oakland’s Creepy New Surveillance Program Just Got Approved

By Linda Lye | EFF | August 1, 2013

Earlier this week, the Oakland City Council voted to approve the second phase of a $10.9 million surveillance center that would enable the City to engage in widespread warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever. This is a terrible blow to privacy.

The so-called Domain Awareness Center (DAC) would consolidate a vast network of surveillance data. The project was initially supposed to be about port security. But in a classic illustration of mission creep, the project as proposed would have pulled in over 1,000 cameras and sensors pointed at Oakland residents, including 700 cameras in Oakland schools. While surveilling schoolchildren is not going to secure the Port of Oakland, it would allow for the comprehensive tracking of innocent Oakland residents. The DAC would enable the city to track individuals when they visit the abortion clinic, the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or the union hall, or engage in other private activities. Although proponents of the project claimed that it did nothing more than consolidate existing surveillance systems, the mere combination of surveillance data is extremely intrusive. A mosaic depicts far more information than any individual tile.

Shockingly, the City Council was poised to approve the project even though there was no privacy framework in place whatsoever. Although the City’s proposed contract with a vendor to build the DAC took pains to prescribe in minute detail the precise manner in which, for example, metal framing systems are to be installed (studs are to be placed not more than 2 inches from abutting walls), there were no privacy provisions addressing key issues such as data retention and dissemination.

Disappointingly, and in the face of enormous opposition, the City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the DAC. The resolution it ultimately adopted requires the City Council to approve privacy policies and specifies which surveillance systems can be included in the DAC (the cameras in Oakland schools are no longer included). While the resolution contains a few nods to privacy, the City Council still put the cart before the horse. The City Council would never have approved a construction project, only to say that they’d review financial costs after the project is built. But it did just that with privacy costs.

You can follow Linda Lye on Twitter at @linda_lye.

August 2, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment