Hella Privacy! Maybe.

Categories: Front Page, Open Mic

Almost two years after the Domain Awareness Center first crept onto the radar of Bay Area activists… it will be allowed to power up.

Two years past it was a system spec’ed to spy over all of Oakland, incorporating traffic cameras, Shotspotter, school cameras, license plate readers and social media, with no controls on information sharing with other agencies like the FBI or ICE.

Now, it is a system confined to take input from the Port of Oakland (at least without Council approval of further expansion). It may not use new technologies such as facial recognition without Council approval, it may not transfer data to other agencies without Council approval,  and its use, at least conceptually, is restricted by the newly enacted Privacy Policy the City Council passed at 3:00 AM on June 3rd, 2015.

The Privacy Policy was the year-long work of the Ad Hoc Privacy Committee, chaired by Brian Hofer of the Oakland Privacy Working Group. It was established in March, 2014 when the City Council – on a 4-4 vote, with then Mayor Quan casting a fifth, tie-breaking aye – passed the resolution to create a Port-limited DAC, but restricting it from being enabled until, and only until, a privacy policy was written by the Committee and approved by the City Council.

The Privacy Policy defines acceptable uses for the DAC’s spy capability, importantly forbidding its use against protests if there is no particularized reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. An ordinance, approved in principle as well at 3:00 AM, will allow the policy to be enforced through audits and citizen watchdogs. If the DAC is being used improperly, any citizen will have a right to go to court to ask for an injunction against such use. If procedures aren’t being followed correctly, again an injunction can be sought to order the City to follow correct procedures as spelled out in the Privacy Policy.

The Council also approved in principle the creating of a standing Privacy Committee for the City of Oakland, with an ordinance to that effect to come before the Council at a later date. The first order of business for this new committee will be to draft a Surveillance Equipment Acquisition Ordinance that will create an open process, with opportunity for public comment, before OPD or other City agencies acquire new surveillance capabilities.

Taken together, the Privacy Policy, the Privacy Committee and the new Ordinance will make Oakland a leader in protecting the privacy of its citizens. Other cities will be (and already have been) looking to Oakland for models of privacy.


While the only good DAC is a dead DAC, the best Oakland’s privacy activists could get is a Port-limited, capability-limited, expansion constrained, Privacy Policy enabled DAC. Which was the outcome in the wee hours of June 3rd.


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