March 4, 2014 | By Nadia Kayyali

UPDATE: EFF Fights Back Against Oakland's Disturbing Domain Awareness Center

UPDATE- March 5, 2014:

After a grueling meeting where dozens of speakers expressed concerns about privacy, racial profiling, and political repression, the Oakland City Council voted to move forward with a reduced Domain Awareness Center. The motion that was approved will remove city cameras and ShotSpotter from the DAC components, but does not address many of the questions EFF and others have raised. The final vote was a 4-4 tie, with Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Libby Schaaf, Noel Gallo, and Lynette Gibson McElhaney voting no and Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Pat Kernighan, Desley Brooks, and Larry Reid voting yes. Mayor Jean Quan cast the tie-breaking yes vote, and has indicated that she will seek to add more systems to the DAC “one at a time” in the future. EFF will now be scrutinizing the development of the privacy policy and the DAC system itself very closely.

After an encouraging debate at the Oakland City Council meeting on February 18, EFF has submitted another letter opposing Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The DAC is a potent surveillance system that could enable ubiquitous privacy and civil liberties violations against Oakland residents. The city appeared set to approve a resolution that would have handed the City Administrator authority to sign a contract for completion of the project. However, after strenuous discussion, Councilmember Desley Brooks made a motion to delay the vote for two weeks in order to get more information about the potential civil liberties and financial impacts of the DAC. The council passed the motion with 6 yes votes and 2 abstentions.

Phase I of the DAC, funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, is already operational. It integrates Port security cameras and an intrusion detection system with City of Oakland traffic cameras, city geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and a gun shot detector called ShotSpotter. The information from these various data sources is integrated using “Physical Security Information Management” PSIM. This allows law enforcement and other agencies to access and analyze all of these data sources through a single user interface. This means DAC staff can look at a single screen and see various video and information feeds at once, allowing much more invasive surveillance of Oaklanders.

At the February 18 meeting, speakers raised myriad issues. One of those was the racial profiling of Yemeni, Muslim, and African-American communities already happening in Oakland. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a community organizer, talked about how law enforcement already targets the thousands of Muslims in Oakland, stating, “I represent people who are afraid to come here." Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the murdered Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, reminded the council about the legacy of surveillance and targeting experienced by African-American activists.

At issue now is whether the Oakland City Council will approve an expansion of the system to include more data sources, considering all the outstanding questions. The council seemed to hear the concerns raised by community members and asked a lot of their own questions at the meeting. The council directed staff to provide further information. Unfortunately, as EFF’s letter states, the most recent staff report:

continues to punt key issues around the DAC to the future, regardless of the fact that many members of the Council prudently expressed concern about approving the project without a full delineation of what is being approved. These questions include, among others, what types of cameras and other data sources will be included, what relationships and information sharing agreements exist between the City and federal agencies, how DAC analytics will work, how exactly public engagement will occur, when the privacy policy advisory committee will meet and who will be on that committee.

Another major concern expressed at the meeting was the connection between the Domain Awareness Center and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. While city staff has repeatedly assured the public and the Oakland City Council that there are no information sharing agreements with federal agencies, the city already works several of them. EFF’s letter addresses this: 

implying that there is any sort of firewall between DAC information and the federal government is disingenuous at best. As has been pointed out to the Council, Oakland already shares information with the FBI through its participation in a Joint Terrorism Task Force. Similarly, the Oakland Police Department participates in the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a Department of Homeland Security program. In fact, Renee Domingo is part of the “Approval Authority” for UASI. The Approval authority “provides policy direction and is responsible for final decisions regarding projects and funding,” to UASI.

Implying that the DAC has no relationship to fusion centers is also disingenuous. UASI is one of the primary funders for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the regional Bay Area fusion center. Furthermore, the DAC itself has been “featured” regarding information sharing in relationship to NCRIC and other federal agencies; in a 2013 port security workshop that included Department of Homeland Security, NCRIC and Port of Oakland officials and brought in other federal agencies, law enforcement, and private interests, the DAC and NCRIC were used as models for information sharing relationships.  In fact, pursuant to City Council resolutions, the Oakland Police Department and Fire Department staffed the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center in 2011 and 2012.

EFF joins the ACLU of Northern California, National Lawyers Guild and the Oakland Privacy Working Group (OPWG) in opposing the DAC. A group letter from OPWG has amassed over 35 signatories, including faith leaders, political party leaders, and community groups from the Arab, Muslim, Asian, and African-American communities. The Council has the opportunity to halt the DAC now, and to address the existing systems in place:

A no vote today is not the last step. The Council must then take responsibility for addressing Phase 1 of the DAC. EFF warns the Council that it must seriously consider how exactly a port-only DAC will work, taking into account the serious technical and legal concerns that accompany the DAC even as it currently exists. EFF again reminds the Council that any financial consequences of limiting the DAC are no reason to pursue a course of action that will seriously endanger civil liberties in Oakland. EFF urges the Council to consider the egregious lack of information and transparency that has surrounded this project and to vote against any expansion of the DAC.


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