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Oakland Considers Privacy vs. Surveillance

PHOTO: Privacy advocates recently installed a sign to protest Oakland's proposed Domain Awareness Center. Photo credit: Oakland Privacy Working Group.
PHOTO: Privacy advocates recently installed a sign to protest Oakland's proposed Domain Awareness Center. Photo credit: Oakland Privacy Working Group.
May 26, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. – On Tuesday the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee considers far-reaching privacy rules after protests forced the committee to scale back a large surveillance plan.

The Domain Awareness Center would have linked video feeds from public schools, housing projects, traffic cameras, the port, airport and all major intersections with data from facial recognition software, license plate readers and gunshot spotter microphones.

But two months ago, the council restricted the system to just the port and airport.

Privacy activist Brian Hofer says people should be able to drive around without being tracked, and hold a conversation on a street corner without being recorded.

"We need to decide what are the appropriate uses of this equipment, if any," he says. "We need to make that clear up front before we waste time and resources and get equipment that the community ends up opposing."

The privacy policy would activate the system only in times of emergency, put restrictions on who may view the data and limit how long it can be kept. It would also establish a permanent privacy committee.

Hofer says there is little proof that large-scale surveillance solves much crime.

"If you're infringing upon our right to privacy and we're not getting crime solving benefits, then the balance is tipped in favor of discontinuing use," he says.

The system started as a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the Port of Oakland, and was later expanded to cover the entire city.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA