ACLU Urges Oakland City Council to Put the Brakes on Surveillance Center

By: Linda Lye

The ACLU of Northern California today urged the Oakland City Council to put the brakes on a proposed $11 million surveillance center because it would enable the City to engage in widespread warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents. (Read our letter here.)

The so-called Domain Awareness Center (DAC) would consolidate a vast network of surveillance data. It would pull in over 1,000 cameras and sensors pointed at Oakland residents. But that's not all – this new system would indefinitely retain video and other data, and allow it to be shared.

This means the City would be able to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing. Warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents violates constitutional privacy principles. Even more troubling: the City hasn't developed any guidelines on privacy and data retention.

Strong, enforceable safeguards are necessary to help protect privacy rights and must strictly regulate the collection, use, retention, and dissemination of the data collected by the DAC. At a minimum, these safeguards must be in place before the City Council authorizes any further development of this surveillance center.

The City Council is set to vote on this matter on Tuesday, July 30. City leaders should stop any further development of this system until privacy concerns are fully vetted.

Update: August 1, 2013

Disappointingly, and in the face of enormous opposition, the City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the DAC. The resolution it ultimately adopted requires the City Council to approve privacy policies and specifies which surveillance systems can be included in the DAC (the cameras in Oakland schools are no longer included). While the resolution contains a few nods to privacy, the City Council still put the cart before the horse. The City Council would never have approved a construction project, only to say that they'd review financial costs after the project is built. But it did just that with privacy costs.

Linda Lye is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.