Oakland surveillance center threatens more than just privacyThursday, October 17, 2013 at 10:00 am by Matthew Kellegrew
Outrage came to the city of Oakland at the news of the city’s intention to open the Domain Awareness Center. The facility is an integrated data and information collection, aggregation and processing facility that draws from a network of hundreds of cameras and sources placed throughout Alameda County.
The original design called for over 700 CCTV cameras to be placed in Oakland public schools, but this was dropped after a challenge from the ACLU. The primary data collection components have remained intact though.
From the NY Times:
“The new system, scheduled to begin next summer, is the latest example of how cities are compiling and processing large amounts of information, known as big data, for routine law enforcement. And the system underscores how technology has enabled the tracking of people in many aspects of life.
The police can monitor a fire hose of social media posts to look for evidence of criminal activities; transportation agencies can track commuters’ toll payments when drivers use an electronic pass; and the National Security Agency, as news reports this summer revealed, scooped up telephone records of millions of cellphone customers in the United States.”
Public outcry around the program doesn’t end with a concern for the preservation of privacy rights. Also at issue is the lack of corporate responsibility in the selection of city business partners. The companies hired to perform the surveillance are viewing Oakland, already financially troubled, as a potential cash resource. More disturbing is the extent to which these firms have demonstrated a total lack of accountability:
“For the companies that make big data tools, projects like Oakland’s are a big business opportunity. Microsoft built the technology for the New York City program. I.B.M. has sold data-mining tools for Las Vegas and Memphis.
Oakland has a contract with the Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, to build its system. That company has earned the bulk of its $12 billion in annual revenue from military contracts. As the federal military budget has fallen, though, SAIC has diversified to other government agency projects, though not without problems.
The company’s contract to help modernize the New York City payroll system, using new technology like biometric readers, resulted in reports of kickbacks. Last year, the company paid the city $500 million to avoid a federal prosecution. The amount was believed to be the largest ever paid to settle accusations of government contract fraud. SAIC declined to comment.”
In July when the city counsel first accepted the federal grant to fund the center, the proceedings were disrupted with protest:
“The decision to accept a $2.2 million federal grant to help pay for the surveillance center infuriated protesters who crowded into the council’s chambers for an hours-long meeting. Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” rattled the chambers for nearly two minutes after the vote.”
Since approval of the center by the counsel, details regarding the scope of the planned data collection have been either obscured or outright omitted from public review.
The true danger of facilities like the Domain Awareness Center is the ability to deploy a massive, integrated state-to-federal data-sharing program against anyone, for any reason. As the city of Oakland has already shown, it is willing to go to extreme lengths to repress political activity. Not only has the trustworthiness of the City of Oakland itself been called into question before, but the very police force this sensitive information will be provided to have been placed under federal receivership for mismanagement.
The Oakland Domain Awareness Center is a triangle of danger for privacy rights and responsible government. The City, the Federal Government and the police are all the worst possible parties to be conducting this level of surveillance and given access to this level of sensitive information.
The residents of Oakland have only themselves to rely on for support in opposing this assault on their civil liberties. The lack of responsiveness at the political level locally is nothing new for the city however, and the struggle will undoubtedly continue against state repression in the same place it has historically: in the streets.