Some ten members of the Oakland Privacy Group braved the cold and rain on Friday evening to bring Oakland the story of DAC: The Domain Awareness Center. One of the best non-artist First Friday booths evahhhh held the DAC exhibit – complete with both mock and real surveillance cameras, a beautiful banner, and a movie screen showing Minority Report style scenes from ‘1984’, the surveillance camera livestream, and a privacy poster slide show.
Too bad the rest of Oakland had the sense to stay home and away from the shivering wetness. (Don’t worry, the NSA was still keeping tabs on everyone’s whereabouts).
Cold, wet and NSA be damned, the story must get out. Here is the DAC’s sordid tale, to date, in the form of a FAQ.
Q. What is DAC?
A. DAC is the acronym for the Domain Awareness Center. The DAC is a “surveillance hub” for the Port and City of Oakland. It is supposed to integrate data from public and private cameras, license plate readers, sound recordings and other sensors into a mass surveillance system.
Q. So what? Isn’t privacy dead? Won’t the DAC help stop crime?
A. The National Security Agency (NSA) believes privacy is dead. Just ask Edward Snowden. We’d like to believe it’s still on life support and has a chance of recovery. As for crime, there is no solid evidence that mass surveillance such as being proposed by the DAC prevents crime – especially violent crime. This is a myth propagated by companies that want to sell DAC technologies to every city and town across the country, making bazillions in profits from your tax dollars to no effect. It is a myth that is eagerly lapped up by police and politicians who want to “do something” about crime instead of investing long-term in education and living-wage jobs, the real crime reduction strategies.
Q. What’s the problem with having a DAC?
A. Some interesting thoughts:
“Video surveillance is used to monitor our lives and to control our actions. Comprehensive monitoring is the most visible manifestation of the ubiquitous eye of the state, done under the guise of society’s basic need for security.
“The gaze of the cameras does not fall equally on everyone but on those who are predefined as potentially deviant, or through appearance and demeanor, are singled out by operators as un-respectable…. Surveillance will become a tool of injustice through the amplification of differential and discriminatory policing.”
“Even surveillance of legal activities can inhibit people from engaging in them.”
“A core purpose of all surveillance is social control… we are inhibited, chilled by the eye in the Internet watching.”
Giving authoritarian agents of the state the ability to monitor our every move and keystroke, let alone have it all available to Homeland Security and the NSA is simply unacceptable.
Q. How did the DAC project start?
A. DAC began with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 to the Port of Oakland to secure port facilities “from terrorists.” (Reference document)
Q. How did it turn into something citywide, not just for the Port?
A. We’re not really sure. In June of 2009 City of Oakland representatives signed a document which called for a group to “Explore the Development of a Joint Port-OPD-OFD-OES Domain Awareness Coordination Center at the City’s existing Emergency Operations Center (EOC).” In September, the Federal government tentatively approved a grant to the Port of Oakland for $2.9M to implement the Joint City/Port DAC. In July, 2010 the City Council approved receiving those monies and spending them. In early 2012 the final documents were signed. Why it took so long and who made the decision to mutate the project from Port security to citywide surveillance is unclear.
Ultimately the buck must stop with Mayor Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana, who allowed the City of Oakland’s proud progressive traditions to be trampled on with bribes of Homeland Security money so that it could become a guinea pig for mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale.
Q. How far along is the DAC project?
A. In October, 2012, Oakland sent out a Request for Proposal to implement Phase I. They ultimately chose Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) from a number of bidders. That work, Phase I, was completed in late Spring of 2013.
Q. What exactly did SAIC build or create during Phase I?
A. “Phase 1 included the Design/build that would include equipment, services and the key City systems’ integration.” For what that jumble is worth.
Q. What about phase II?
A. In May, 2013, the Port of Oakland approved transferring “Port Security Grant” monies to fund Phase II of the DAC. In late July, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved receiving these funds (some $2,000,000) and gave a sole source, non-bid contract to Phase I contractor SAIC to implement Phase II with that money.
Q. Did anyone notice? Were there protests?
Q. So Phase II is being implemented?
Q. What happened?
A. We don’t know exactly. At some point in August, 2013 City of Oakland personnel “discovered” that SAIC was involved or affiliated with nuclear weapons technology research or support.
Q. Well, duh. Who didn’t know that? They’re a military contractor. So?
A. In 1992 (after a 1988 ordinance was found unconstitutional), the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance barring the City from contracting with companies associated in certain fairly broad ways with nuclear weapons technology or support.
Q. Did Oakland then junk the whole project?
A. No. We don’t really know what kind of discussions went on after this “discovery,” but what we do know is that the City decided they couldn’t use SAIC any more. They also realized they couldn’t go back and do an entire round of Requests for Proposal (RFP) for Phase II, because they were in danger of timing out on the grant money if they went through the whole RFP process again. City Manager Santana decided to ask the City Council to grant her permission to choose a Phase II contractor from the set of Phase I contractors whom they had rejected in favor of SAIC last year.
Q. Is that legal?
A. We don’t know. We’re not legal experts.
Q. Why did you put “discover” in scare quotes?
A. Because we procured documents (using a California Public Records Act request) that show that SAIC and officials in City government knew in February, 2013 that SAIC was performing work in violation of the ordinance. The East Bay Express just published an expose detailing how SAIC perjured itself and City officials were complicit in the cover-up.
Q. What happened to Santana’s proposal at City Council?
A. On November 19th, the City Council considered the matter. (It was actually on November 20th, because it was after midnight before they got to it.) Some 70+ people signed up to speak against the DAC prior to the meeting’s beginning at 6:30. When the meeting began, City Council President Kernighan summarily rejected a request to move the agenda item up the schedule, refusing to even call a vote of the Council on the question. Nonetheless some thirty people stuck around and many of them voiced their objections – again to no avail. The Council voted 6-1 (Councilperson McElraney in the minority) to approve the new procedure for hiring a Phase II DAC contractor. Protesters also “mic checked” the Council about two hours into the meeting, demanding to be heard on the DAC before exhaustion set in. Again, that was refused.
Q. What happens next?
A. The City Administrator must choose one of the five or six contractors (presumably one that is still willing…) and come back to the City Council in January, 2014 for them to approve of her choice. We believe that will happen at their January 7th meeting.
Q. These previously rejected contractors aren’t involved in some way with nuclear weapons, as was SAIC?
A. Research by Darwin BondGraham suggests that all of them – to one degree or another – have a connection to nuclear weapons technology. Whether they each have strong enough connections to nuclear weapons to render them ineligible under the terms of the 1988 ordinance, and whether if so the City of Oakland will choose to ignore such connections, remains to be seen.
Q. Can a decision by the City to ignore such a connection be challenged?
A. We’re not sure. We’re looking into it.
Q. Why does it all sound like the novel ‘1984’ ?
A. Because it is! Orwell was just a couple decades premature in his predictions of technological capability.
Q. Who are you guys? Who wrote this?
A. We’re the Oakland Privacy Group. We came together to fight the Domain Awareness Center and, more generally, all privacy and 4th amendment violations by our police-state government.
Our next meeting is Wednesday, December 11th at the Sudo room, 2141 Broadway, upstairs (entrance on 22nd. St. You’ll see the signs) at 6:00 PM.