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The Real Purpose of Oakland's Surveillance Center

City leaders have argued that Oakland needs a massive surveillance system to combat violent crime, but internal documents reveal that city staffers are also focused on tracking political protesters.



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On July 25, Baig requested that SAIC produce a demonstration video of the DAC's capabilities to show off at the next City Council meeting. "Try your best. I need the Demo ASAP, it shouldn't be more than 3 mins.," wrote Baig. "Check out website to understand the background."

On July 31, dozens of Oakland residents attended a city council meeting to speak out against the DAC. The next day, Jerry Green, an employee of Radio IP, an Oakland contractor, emailed Baig a copy of a San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, "Oakland OKs Money For Surveillance Center," that described the protest. The title of Green's email was "these upset citizens must have something to hide." Baig responded simply, "Yep..."

Law enforcement surveillance (both federal and local) of demonstrators has been a constant in Oakland since the killing of Oscar Grant in 2009 sparked chaotic street demonstrations. Police infiltrated organizing meetings, sent undercover officers to mingle in crowds during several demonstrations, and recorded the protests with multiple video teams. Police took a similar approach during Occupy Oakland. Police also compiled yearbook-style photo dossiers of prominent demonstrators, regardless of whether they had committed a crime or not.

Siegel took issue with the DAC's focus on First Amendment activity. "The communications among Oakland city staff and DAC contractors demonstrate their intent to create a surveillance system that goes far beyond what might be used to detect terrorist threats and help the OPD solve serious crimes," he said.

"Instead, they are building a system that will be used to monitor political demonstrations and identify individuals involved in protests. The city's contractors betray their true attitudes by describing people opposed to state surveillance as 'upset citizens' with 'something to hide.'"

In August 2012, when port officials were brainstorming the extent of the DAC's surveillance powers, they hired a company called GuidePost Solutions to help. GuidePost Solutions has an office in Oakland, but is headquartered in Manhattan. Its executives include former officials from NYPD, the US Attorneys' office, the New York City District Attorneys' Office, and other law enforcement agencies. The DAC blueprint that GuidePost Solutions and the port devised to send to potential contractors as a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) drew the attention of Oakland police.

Lieutenant Michael Poirier read the plan and criticized it as being "too Port specific."

"While the DAC will of course serve the Port, I see the majority of information in/out will be 'live' on City streets," Poirier wrote in an email to port staffers and to Raymond Kolodzieczak of GuidePost Solutions. "This RFQ does not have the focus of 'live' operational information center."

Poirier recommended revising the project description to reflect OPD's plan to make the DAC a citywide system that includes "any City camera, shotspotter, LPR [automated license-plate readers]," and he even added, "City Databases (planning, permits, business tax, city GIS etc)" as information to be fed into the DAC.

Poirier ended his lengthy email stating, "If the RFQ goes out as is, I think the vendor will be 'surprised' when the true nature/function (operational mode) of the DAC is requested."

In public comments to the city council in July, Lye of the ACLU questioned whether there were any privacy policies in place to govern how the DAC would collect and store data. There were not. Lye met with city staffers to discuss the numerous ways the DAC could serve to undermine civil rights. She said she opposes construction of the DAC, and that her participation in those policy meetings should not be taken as ACLU's endorsement of the project. Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Libby Schaaf subsequently spearheaded a resolution requiring the city to develop a privacy and data retention policy, and for the rules to be in place by March, before the DAC becomes fully operational.

But the city is drafting the policy after the DAC has already been outfitted with the hardware and software necessary to store massive amounts of information, including video footage. In a July 26, 2013 email from SAIC employee Neill Chung to port and city staffers concerning the privacy policy requested by the council, Chung asserted that the DAC "[does] not record or store any video." He then wrote exactly the opposite: "The [DAC] operators do have the ability to save a snapshot from a video and save it to the local workstation where they can then distribute the image," and further that they can also save and distribute video. "The [DAC] operators will have the ability to export a video clip and save it to the local workstation where they can then distribute the video."

In the same email conversation chain, Oakland project leader Baig referred to the DAC as having "TB of data storage," meaning terabytes. Standard DVDs hold 4.7 gigabytes of data, enough for a couple hours of high-definition digital footage. Many hours of lower-resolution video footage could be saved in just a few gigabytes. There are 1024 gigabytes in 1 terabyte. If Baig's claim that the DAC has terabytes of video storage capacity is correct, then the DAC is already outfitted with hardware to store the equivalent of at least 435 full-length movies. And the DAC's hardware likely has many more hours of storage capacity than that.

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