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Major City to Create Wide-Reaching Surveillance Center Despite 'Significant Privacy Concerns

Major City to Create Wide-Reaching Surveillance Center Despite 'Significant Privacy Concerns

"...an attempt to criminalize everybody who lives in Oakland and passes through Oakland."

A city council meeting in Oakland, California, went for nearly eight hours Tuesday finishing up with an early morning vote to create controversial surveillance center that has seen recent protests due to the privacy concerns that have been raised.

surveillance camera Oakland City Council votes to expand surveillance through creation of a Domain Awareness Center. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

The Domain Awareness Center is intended to help the Port of Oakland and other authorities better respond to emergencies through sharing of information, but civil liberties advocates, like the ACLU's Linda Lye, have contested that the center causes "significant privacy concerns" as it would "allow for widespread warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents."

The project began in 2010 with federal stimulus funds, and the city council Tuesday voted 6-0 to accept federal funding for phase two of the project. According to Oakland Local, phase two includes implementing a system that would allow the port and the city to share data and video with other government authorities.

Already in place, according to the ACLU's letter -- which encouraged the council to vote against this expansion of surveillance -- are more than 700 cameras in area schools, 40 license plate readers and dozens of other cameras around the city -- some of which provide real-time feeds -- among other surveillance equipment. This next phase, which will be funded with $2 million, essentially will consolidate the systems run by the police, fire, port and school programs into one place.

"The privacy implications are vast," Lye wrote in her letter. "Surveillance technology of the sort contemplated by the DAC enables law enforcement to capture intimate details of an individual's life, including 'trips to the psychiatrist, plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the hour-by-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, the synagogue or church, the gay bar and on and on.'"

The Oakland Tribune reported that the vote, which came after 1 a.m., included measures to help assuage some of the privacy concerns brought up:

In a bid to ease concerns about the program, council members required that footage not be recorded or stored at the center until after privacy safeguards were adopted next spring. Additionally, the surveillance feeds will only be from city and port cameras. Additional footage from schools, the Oakland Coliseum complex or outside agencies such as Caltrans, would not be streamed unless approved by the council.

ACLU attorney Linda Lye said the amendments were a step in the right direction, but cautioned that the center, scheduled to open next June, would be nearly finished by the time safeguards are discussed giving residents very little leverage to push for privacy protections.

"It's still putting the cart before the horse," she said.

"The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland," the Tribune included Oakland resident Mark Raymond saying. "This program is an attempt to criminalize everybody who lives in Oakland and passes through Oakland."

KNTV-TV reported the Director of Emergency Services for the city, Renee Domingo, reiterating Tuesday before the meeting that the goal of the center is not to infringe upon citizens' privacy but to "help first responders (such as police officers and firefighters) do a better job of saving lives."

"We want to provide real time information and have a common operating system," she continued.

The Center for Investigative Reporting noted that the DAC is expected to be unveiled mid-2014 and that the city and the port authority are applying for another $2.6 million federal grant to fund new staff positions at the facility.

All in all, the total cost of the facility is expected to be around $10.9 million.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.



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