Last week, Joshua Daniels, a frequent tweeter and participant in the Twitter hashtag #oakmtg a collectively agreed upon moniker to sift commentary of Oakland City Council’s meetings into one easy-to-find spot, seemed like the only person in the entire city questioning a resolution over what amounts to a city-wide surveillance program.

In fact, at the July 9 public safety meeting, the item appeared to be like many de rigeur pieces of city legislation. There was no public comment and two City Council members showed no reason to challenge the proposal to allocate $2 million in federal stimulus dollars given to the Port of Oakland and the city to begin phase two of what is ominously called a Domain Awareness Center (DAC), which will enable law enforcement to better access centrally-located floods of data points and numerous video feeds not only at the port, but city streets and the Oakland Coliseum, among other areas. While some council members exhibited gee whiz enthusiasm for the software’s nifty abilities, including the possibility of adding its capabilities to mobile devices, Daniels feared yet another violation of the citizenry’s privacy.

In the week that followed the committee meeting, Daniels, under the Twitter handle, @HarryElephante, mobilized the often sarcastic, but inquisitive and locally-engaged followers of #oakmtg. Tweet after tweet, he educated his audience to the mere facts, including in a short staff report and the meeting, itself, including a cheery comment by Councilmember Dan Kalb concluding the proposal, “Sounds good to me.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, many of the same #oakmtg followers took on their public persona to address the City Council and chided Kalb for his enthusiasm, which they believed was unwarranted. Kalb, however, wondered why the throng of opponents to the DAC did not attend last week’s committee meeting to voice their opinions. The irony, though, is many of them were at the meeting. Maybe not physically, but in the ether, 140 characters at a time.

While social media networks have been credited with helping democracy organize and coalesce in the Middle East, the growing power of #oakmtg gives an indication of what civic participation will look like in the near future. The Oakland City Council, appearing like they were caught flat-footed by the immense lack of vetting for the DAC issue in committee, moved to delay any action on the item to July 30.

Although many feel powerless and disillusioned when it comes to government, it can be argued a single person’s advocacy forced the City Council to step back and pause before blindly approving an expenditure that without specific rules and conditions could one day greatly affect the privacy and ability to protest not just Oaklanders, but every visitor who unwittingly passes within the field of one of its surveillance cameras.

Cross posted from East Bay Citizen

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