Privacy groups are aggressively lobbying members of the Oakland City Council to vote Tuesday night against a resolution approving a $1.6 million contract for the second phase of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). In addition, the groups are calling on the council to halt the entire project funded by federal tax dollars and initially targeted for use at the Port of Oakland. The current iteration links a variety of cameras in Oakland belonging to a host of disparate government bodies, along with data from law enforcement into a single surveillance hub.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nationally known non-profit formed to defend civil liberties in the digital world, and a long list of privacy groups sent two letters this week to council members citing the surveillance hub’s potential to infringe of citizen’s rights, its unfunded costs and an incomplete privacy policy, not yet vetted by the public.

“The DAC, by its very nature, enables unconstitutional surveillance. It will enable unprecedented access to information from around the city by aggregating previously unrelated data sources,” EFF activist Nadia Kayyali wrote to the council. In the letter, the EFF called a document released last week by the City Administrator Deanna Santana’s office laying out the initial framework for the DAC’s privacy policy as “deeply flawed” and fails to incorporate suggestions from the public.

“It is a mistake to grant any further approvals regarding the DAC at this time,” the letter continues. “City staff have not answered any of the questions that have been raised by attorneys, community members, and privacy advocates. Unelected city staff have been irresponsible and unresponsive and yet are asking for what is essentially a blank check to go forward with the DAC. Approving the resolution today would be an abdication of the City Council’s oversight role. The project must not go forward.”

A similar letter in protest signed by the Oakland Privacy Working Group, Code Pink, the San Francisco Bay Area Council on American-Islamic Relations and former Oakland Councilmember Wilson Riles, among others, was also delivered to council members this week.

The letter charges the DAC creates “grave concerns” over infringement of civil liberties in Oakland. The unfunded future costs of running the DAC, estimated at $1.6 million annually, is too costly for the city’s bottom line, they write. “The City has spent the last few years making severe budget cuts, and it would be forced to make even deeper cuts to comply wit the balanced budget provision.”

There appears to be no specific discussion among city leaders for fully pulling the plug on the DAC, at this time. However, some members of the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee last week registered uncertainty over the eligibility of the city’s preferred vendor for Phase II of the DAC, Schneider Electric, and whether they violate the city’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone ordinance. A staff report last week, determined, however without certainty, that Schneider Electric did not participate in nuclear weapons proliferation.

 

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