When was the last time you can remember your city government asking for feedback on privacy? What about the last time you could comment on privacy online, rather than attending a meeting? If you are a resident of Oakland, CA, you can comment right now on how you’d like to see the city handle the recommendations of the Domain Awareness Center Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Privacy and Data Retention (aka the DAC Privacy Policy Committee).  These recommendations will be considered by the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee (PSC) on April 14, and the PSC will pass its recommendations to the full City Council.

As we noted back in February, EFF participated in the DAC Privacy Policy Committee, with the goal of pushing for a policy as strong as possible—especially in light of the vociferous opposition to any activation of the Domain Awareness Center (including the port-centric one that the City Council approved). The Committee came up with a detailed policy, along with additional recommendations to address privacy and civil liberties concerns in Oakland beyond the DAC.

City staff person Joe DeVries, who has coordinated the DAC Privacy Policy Committee, presented the policy and additional recommendations to the Public Safety Committee (PSC) on February 10. The PSC’s response was positive overall. Councilmember Desley Brooks expressed what seemed to be the PSC’s general view—that the PSC "approved in concept the work that has been done so far" by the DAC Privacy Policy Committee, but wanted more information. It was clear from the meeting that the PSC will pass some sort of policy. But it was less clear how the PSC will approach some of the broader, stronger recommendations from the DAC Privacy Policy Committee.

The PSC wanted further input from city staff and the public. It asked city staff to provide a written analysis on the additional seven recommendations made by the Advisory Committee. You can read some notes and analysis about what city staff have said about the policy to the Privacy Policy Committee since the PSC meeting here. Any further analysis from city staff should also be posted online on the City’s calendar prior to the April 14 meeting. In order to facilitate public comment, the draft policy and additional recommendations have been posted online along with a form for the public to share their views before the PSC’s April 14 meeting.

You can read more about EFF’s analysis of the policy here, but these are the basics:

  • The policy has some weaknesses—it could have restricted use of the DAC more than it does, and it isn't a cure-all for racial profiling or other outstanding issues with law enforcement in Oakland.
  • The private right of action, which makes it easier for anyone to sue over violations of the policy, as well as the criminal consequences in the policy, are crucial to give the policy any real teeth. The City Council must pass an ordinance to give these pieces of the policy effect, and the PSC should recommend that it do so.  
  • The limitations on when the DAC can be used, when and how information can be shared, and the warrant requirements for access to DAC data, are essential to a functional privacy policy.

The Privacy Policy Committee recommended changes outside of the DAC-specific policy that are aimed at increasing transparency and privacy in Oakland, including:

  • Changing the city’s whistleblower ordinance so that anyone, not just employees, can report abuse, and to increase the number of ways that whistleblowers can report.
  • Passing a new surveillance equipment ordinance that would require “Informed public debate about any surveillance technology proposal prior to acquisition or pursuing funding,” which EFF and ACLU strongly recommend as law enforcement use of surveillance technology continues to spread. This is aimed at ensuring that situations like the last-minute, secretive purchase of a stingray in Santa Clara County don’t happen in Oakland.
  • Creating a standing “Privacy Committee” that would draft a citywide privacy policy. It would also look at proposed changes to the DAC before the Oakland City Council and provide recommendations on those changes. This would ensure that after the passage of any DAC privacy policy, there is a dedicated body to pay attention to how the DAC policy is working. It would also provide that Committee with the mandate to extend the DAC Privacy Policy Committee’s work to the rest of Oakland, something the many residents who came out against the DAC would agree is much-needed.

For those thinking of commenting, the online survey is being administered with Survey Monkey. You can read Survey Monkey’s policies here, including their privacy policy. You should be aware that your comment will be published online.

For Oakland residents, this is a unique chance to push for city policy that reflects your values. In addition to commenting online, the PSC meeting on April 14 is a good way to express your thoughts on the policy and additional recommendations as well. After the PSC meeting, the full City Council will consider the policy. We’ll continue to provide updates and reminders of these dates as the policy moves.