Well, don’t fret, because there’s a solution — the Domain Awareness Center, where iPhone-jacking criminals, downtown-marching activists and park-going patrons alike will enjoy ever-present scrutiny, as law enforcement collects a recorded history of your movements for your own safety. It’s the latest panacea that makes youth curfews and “tools of violence” ordinances look like weak sauce.
Wait, Domain What-now?
Think of it like many rivers and streams feeding into a lake, with some dude on a raft in the middle watching the water flow in.
The City of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center will have the capability to collect and store surveillance footage in real-time from a broad range of sources, including police-operated cameras in public locations, like the port and the schools, and from privately owned cameras (with consent, of course). Other data sources, like automated license plate readers, social media and gunshot detectors, would also spill in.
The Department of Homeland Security is cutting the initial checks for this project, which has been in the works since 2008. The DAC is all about “situational awareness,” which basically means knowing what’s going on around you with as much detail as possible. The idea is that this could potentially help first responders during a range of events, such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and civil unrest.
Such a system could also offer local, state and federal law enforcement another tool to map out the daily habits and patterns of residents regardless of whether they are committing a crime. And they don’t have to hack your information like the NSA. Iit would be there for the taking.
Dude, you’re paranoid. Chill out.
There’s plenty of paranoia out there. Just look at the anti-Occupy hysteria coming out of City Hall over the past two years and from journalists like San Francisco Chronicle columnistChip Johnson.
The Oakland City Council approved the DAC with no policies dictating how and when collected data can be stored and, later, used. The resolutions passed offered no protections for the privacy of innocent Oakland residents whose patterns could easily be mapped out using this system.
What we did get was lip service that privacy policies would be drafted by March 2014, but those protections should have been in place before the council voted since there are no guarantees the council will move on them in the future.
Considering the near-daily revelations about the NSA abusing its surveillance authority, ensuring that the public will have reasonable privacy protection is essential to curb future abuses.
Oh, and protip for Mayor Quan: if you’re trying to sell surveillance, don’t let the city’s emergency services director pen a column where she argued, in part, that “Oakland’s long history of civil discourse and protest adds to the need” for the DAC. That kind of reinforces the above concerns.
Um, but isn’t there a crimepocalyse happening in Oakland?
There’s no doubt the past two years have seen the highest level of reported robberies since 1993, and much of that increase is occurring in more affluent neighborhoods like Rockridge and Temescal. No doubt the recent media coverage of this, coupled with the shattering of illusions that these areas were immune from Oakland’s crime problems, is expediting this project.
Advocates for the DAC have been fixated with the robbery angle, but guess what: In all other categories of violent crime — rape, aggravated assault and homicide — crime is down. In fact, year-to-date this is the third-lowest year for homicides since 2003.
This isn’t meant to make light of the crime happening in our city and the people it affects. It’s to show that while crime appears to be getting worse, in many ways it’s getting better. What really may be changing is the question of who is affected by crime. And that’s amplifying the hysteria. Using the fear of crime to drive through a project that won’t be good for Oakland in the long-term is opportunism, nothing more.
But cameras reduce crime.
The verdict is still out on that.
An American Civil Liberties Unionwhite paper on the issue looked at research by a number of criminologists who studied the use of police-operated cameras in the UK and US. What they found is that there is no statistically significant connection between cameras and crime reduction.
You’ll find a plethora of anecdotal data, like how that one time a camera helped prevent a drug deal in Chicago, but you won’t find data to support the claims that a DAC would help deter crime or improve first-responder response times.
Why is this important? We’re being in told that the DAC is necessarily as a crime-fighting tool, but if the effects on crime will be marginal or merely result in displacement of crime away from surveilled areas, does that outweigh the risks this system poses?
First, let’s start with some intelligence-speak: mission creep.
The term signifies a project growing from its original purpose into something larger and undesirable. The DAC was originally marketed as a port-centric operation, similar to the DAC in Long Beach. But now we see the project becoming a city-centric operation with broader implications.
What’s next? We’re told the DAC will not use facial recognition technology at first, but what about five years from now? Will we see yet another undesirable expansion of this system? Where will it stop?
I hate slippery slopes unless I’m at a water park.
Maybe, but the city wouldn’t mismanage a system like this.
When it comes to tech, Oakland has a poor record. If you want insight into this, read the 2012 audit from City Auditor Courtney Ruby on the use of police technology.
In it, Ruby criticizes OPD for not using, or underutilizing, five tools that cost the city $1.87 million. Specifically she mentions that ShotSpotter, a tool that was meant to better respond to gunshots, was underutilized — with inconsistent dispatching of officers, the lack of use by officers for investigations and the eventual discontinuation of the program entirely. In 2011, while the city renegotiated the terms of using ShotSpotter, there was an eight-month gap in coverage, further aggravating the ability to use the system appropriately or collect valuable data therein.
When we’re talking about putting this much data in the hands of a city that has a history of mismanaging technology projects, it should add more concern.
But who would abuse that power?
There will always be people who abuse power and the tools that enable that power, if they are left unchecked. It would be one thing if you were dealing with a city and a police department that earned your trust by its actions, but that trust is sorely lacking, and for good reason.
Here are a few local examples to remind you of why residents from all corners of the city have serious trust concerns about how the city would handle power like this:
● The Riders scandal, where 119 plaintiffs sued the city, and won, over widespread police brutality and departmental corruption, which was supposed to result in reforms, but that’s still lacking;
● The 2003 port protests: where police blotched the handling of a protest so badly it resulted in huge settlements and a court-mandated crowd control policy;
● Controversial shootings by police, like Gary King Jr., Andrew Moppin-Buckskin, and Mack “Jody” Woodfox;
● Tens of millions of dollars in payouts due to civil rights violations since 2001.
Well, I trust our elected officials.
The city council, as a whole, has done a pretty horrible job of taking this issue seriously.
When funding for Phase II of DAC came before the council on July 16, it was originally on the consent calendar, usually reserved for non-controversial matters.
Then, at the July 30 council meeting, when funding for the DAC was to be discussed and voted on, it was the last item on the agenda, meaning that it wasn’t heard until after midnight. The council pulled the same move on Nov. 19, when theissue of contractors was discussed — iignoring pleas by the hundred-plus people there to speak on the issue to have it moved higher on the agenda.
Frankly, the council showed great disrespect to residents when it forced them to leave the council meeting early because they have other responsibilities, like work in the morning or children at home. Twice the council made residents wait until the wee hours of the night to speak on the issue they were there to talk about, and it smells of trying to paint these residents’ concerns as part of a more radical agenda. (Read: Occupy)
OK, so what now?
If more residents knew what was coming down the pipeline, I suspect they would be deeply concerned. Letting your representatives know how you feel about this is one to show your concerns. Also, folks atOakland Wiki have been discussing next steps.
Here’s a crazy idea: A ballot measure could be a possibility, albeit an expensive one. Let the people of Oakland decide if the DAC is the way to go. Also, Iowa City recently banned drones, license readers and red light cameras, so that could be a route.
But what this all relies on is people knowing what is happening in their backyard. Tell your friends over coffee or beer. Educate yourself. Draw your own conclusions. Take action.