Oakland's Domain Awareness Center:

Muzzling Protest in the Name of "Safety"

March 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Editors' Note: The following letter from a reader is a follow-up to a letter that appeared on this website last summer on the Oakland City Council's decision to move ahead with a repressive surveillance program called Domain Awareness Center, linking surveillance cameras, license plate readers (already mounted on all Oakland police vehicles), Twitter feeds, alarm notifications, and other data.

The March 4 meeting of the Oakland City Council was filled with loud and angry protesters who came armed with signs and banners to express their outrage at the city's efforts to muzzle protest, all in the supposed name of making the city safer. Some 100 people signed up to speak at the council meeting, the vast majority opposing the council's plans to move forward with further plans for expanding the Oakland Domain Awareness Center (DAC). Additionally, the Oakland Privacy Working Group threatened to sue the city of Oakland if they pursued the DAC project. Just eight months ago, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the DAC. But the active and growing movement in opposition to the DAC has forced the council to take a step back, this time narrowly voting to limit the DAC to monitoring the Port of Oakland and Oakland Airport instead of the entire city—at least for the time being.

As I wrote in July, the DAC was originally conceived and funded by the Department of Homeland Security as a project to protect the Port of Oakland from "terrorist attacks," but grew into a full-scale effort to give the Oakland Police Department added power to surveil, harass, and suppress the people. The Center for Investigative Reporting describes the DAC: "...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 systems manager Ahsan] Baig, who briefed the City Council’s Public Safety Committee this month [July 2013].

"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 Electronic Frontier Foundation writes (in an online letter updated on March 5) that Phase 1 is already operational, integrating port security cameras and an intrusion detection system with the City of Oakland traffic cameras, city geographic information system mapping, and a gunshot detector. This information is integrated using "Physical Security Information Management," allowing the police and other agencies to access and analyze all of these data sources through a single system in real time, setting up the terms for Big Brother-type surveillance of anyone in Oakland.

The DAC was billed as an important tool to fight crime, but documents recently obtained by the Oakland Privacy Working Group, an activist group opposed to the DAC, revealed that in the hundreds of emails between various ruling class forces discussing the DAC, there was no serious discussion of crime abatement. Having reviewed these documents, the East Bay Express wrote, "In more than 3,000 pages of emails, the terms 'murder,' 'homicide,' 'assault,' 'robbery,' and 'theft' are never mentioned." Email between various government officials revealed that the DAC has already been used to monitor political protest and not violent crime. Some of the 3,000 pages of disclosed documents also show that the notorious Oakland Police Department itself is tasked with designing the DAC and related policies. ("The Real Purpose of Oakland's Surveillance Center," East Bay Express, December 18, 2013)

Everyone take note: similar police initiatives are in the works in Massachusetts, Texas, and New York.

Oakland is a city with very active protest movements, as well as an important center of the budding movement for revolution. In fact, Oakland's head of the team responsible for the development of the DAC, Renee Domingo, wrote in a trade publication last August, "Oakland's long history of civil discourse and protest adds to the need [for the Domain Awareness Center].The Oakland Emergency Operations Center has been partially or fully activated more than 30 times in the past three years to respond to large demonstrations and protests."

No one should think for a minute that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other forces do not intend to extend the DAC's reach as soon as possible. Following the City Council vote scaling back the DAC project, Quan said, "I wish I had paid attention to it a little earlier. I really thought it was a no-brainer." Following the March 4 meeting, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Quan said she supports the center and she would resurrect parts of the plan for the council to reconsider once the city has written firm privacy rules. 'We'll bring them back one at a time. This is obviously an issue that is splitting the country. Unfortunately, the poor little video system gets to be the target.'"

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