Oakland's Domain Awareness Center:
Heavy-Duty Leap in Repressive Police Surveillance Powers

August 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

In the midst of growing outrage in this country regarding the NSA spying scandal and the outrageous guilty verdict against Bradley Manning who courageously exposed the murderous hand of U.S. capitalism-imperialism, there are some heavy-duty moves in the realm of surveillance taking place in Oakland, California that I thought readers of Revolution should know about.

On July 30, to shouts of "Shame! Shame!"—the Oakland city Council unanimously approved moving forward with a surveillance project reminiscent of the novel 1984, linking surveillance cameras, license plate readers (which already are mounted in all Oakland Police Department vehicles), Twitter feeds, alarm notifications and other data. This Big Brother system, known as the Domain Awareness Center, will be jointly operated by the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the Port of Oakland, and fully funded through grants from the federal government. It will be one of the most advanced surveillance system functioning in a single city.

Originally conceived and funded by the Department of Homeland Security as a project to protect the Port of Oakland from "terrorist attacks," it has grown into a full-scale effort to give the Oakland Police Department added power to surveil, harass and suppress the people. It is being billed as an important tool to fight crime, but it will surely be used to suppress political protest. Anyone familiar with coverage in Revolution knows that Oakland is one of the cities in the country with the most active protest movements, as well as an important center of the budding movement for revolution. It should come as no surprise that former NYPD Chief Bratton, well known for going after the people in New York City, including introducing the now notorious Stop and Frisk program, has his fingerprints are all over the further expansion of the surveillance center.

Not surprisingly, the Domain Awareness Center has no guidelines to protect privacy or to limit the retention of data collected, but claims have been made that they are a work in progress and quite "complex."

The Center for Investigative Reporting* reported last month, "As planned, the center would integrate computer dispatch systems for the Oakland police and fire departments, gunshot detection, microphones and license-plate readers. It includes use of crime mapping software and stationary video cameras, private alarm detection programs, Twitter feeds, news feeds and other alerts for increased 'situational awareness' and 'more effective incident response,' according to (Oakland's information technology manager Ahsan Baig, who briefed the City Council's Public Safety Committee this month.

"Key to the operation is a geographic information system map with overlaid points that represent cameras, license-plate readers, sensors and other infrastructure that feeds into the central network. Multiple camera feeds, sensor indicators and maps can be viewed simultaneously on-screen alongside alerts from other government agencies. Alarms, crime reports and trends in offenses are accessible through a 'Crime View' portal."

The contract for building this system is expected to go to the company that has designed it, Science Applications International Corp., which also builds drones and computer networks. There is already talk of expanding the scope of the Domain Awareness Center to include feeds from the 135 surveillance cameras installed at the Oakland Coliseum and arena.

Outrage at the plan forced the city council to postpone voting on adoption of the plan at a mid-July meeting. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke in opposition to the plan at the July 16 meeting and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that dozens of speakers at the July 30 meeting exposed the proposed plan as turning Oakland into a police state.

The Chronicle quoted one youth as saying, "The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland. The program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live in and pass through Oakland."


 * "Oakland surveillance center progresses amid debate on privacy, data collection," by Ali Winston, contributor, Center for Investigative Reporting, July 18, 2013 [back]

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