An excellent investigative piece in the East Bay Express reviews internal communications and other public records from city staffers and Oakland PD bureaucrats discussing the Domain Awareness Center, a citywide surveillance hub that's currently under construction. Oakland is a city with a decades-long problem with gang violence and street violence, and the DAC — which will consolidate video feeds blanketing the city and use software to ascribe the probability of guilt to people in the feeds — is being sold as a solution to this serious problem.
But the internal documents tell another story. Though the City of Oakland's public-facing DAC message is all about crimefighting and anti-terror surveillance, the internal message is very different. City bureaucrats and law enforcement are excited about DAC because it will help them fight protests.
Analysis of the internal documents found almost no mentions of "crime," "rape," "killings" — but city officials frequently and at length discussed the way the DAC could be used to thwart street protests, future Occupy movements, and trade union activity including strikes.
Other records echo this political mission. In meeting minutes from a January 2012 meeting of the San Francisco Maritime Exchange's Northern California Maritime Area Security Committee, Domingo and Mike O'Brien, director of security for the Port of Oakland, described the DAC system as a tool that would help control labor strikes and community protests that threaten to slow business at the port. Following security reports from the US Border Patrol and the FBI, Domingo told the committee that Oakland law enforcement was "hoping that things would quiet down with the Occupy movement in the new year," according to the official minutes. Domingo thanked the Maritime Exchange for its support of Oakland's port security grant projects, which includes the DAC.
O'Brien went further, explaining that the port's Emergency Operations Center (which now feeds into the DAC) "made use of seventy new security cameras" to track the protesters, and added that the system will ensure that "future actions [do] not scare labor away."
Dan Siegel, a longtime civil and workers' rights attorney in Oakland, said the city staffers' focus on political unrest, even at the port, is disturbing. "There's a huge difference in protecting the port from potential acts of terrorism than from spying on port workers and others who may have political or economic conflicts with port management and the companies that operate the terminals," said Siegel. "What we see taking place is a complete blurring of that line where port security now includes tracking Occupy, longshore workers, and now recently the Port Truckers Association."
During construction of the first phase of the DAC, from roughly August 2012 to October 2013, city staffers repeatedly referred to political protests as a major reason for building the system. Emails to and from Lieutenant Christopher Shannon, Captain David Downing, and Lieutenant Nishant Joshi of OPD and Ahsan Baig, Oakland's technical project leader on the DAC, show that OPD staffers were in the surveillance center during the Trayvon Martin protests this year, and that they may have been monitoring marches in Oakland. In the same chain of emails, Shannon asked if the Emergency Operations Center and the DAC control room's layout had "changed much since May Day," referring to yet another large political rally in Oakland when the DAC appears to have been used by OPD to monitor demonstrations.
The Real Purpose of Oakland's Surveillance Center
[Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston/East Bay Express]