City officials in Oakland, Calif., have decided to accept a $2 million grant from the Obama administration that would allow them to observe citizen movements and actions on a real-time basis all across the city.
The grant is to be used, following a vote by city council members Wednesday, for a “surveillance center.”
A report at OaklandLocal.com earlier this month described the proposal as a plan to create a “Domain Awareness Center” that would allow the government to watch and track data provided by license plate readers and video cameras.
The description of the plan said while it may “make privacy advocates cringe,” the strategy also includes the option of reaching out to other governmental entities to obtain additional information from surveillance cameras, including those at sports facilities that can be trained on spectators.
Renee Domingo, Oakland’s chief of emergency services, said at the time that, “If we needed ability into what was going on there, we could do so.”
The report explained that Ahsan Baig, the manager of Oakland’s information technology, reported to the Public Safety Committee the data obtained from plate readers, cameras and the like could be delivered to just about any computer the city specified, such as a laptop or an iPad.
The San Francisco Chronicle online version reported Wednesday that the council voted to accept the $2.2 million federal grant for the program.
And council members voted immediately to ban spray paint, hammers, slingshots, wrenches and other “potentially destructive items” from any protest or demonstration.
Councilman Noel Gallo said such "tools of violence and vandalism" should be banned so that damages would be minimized during events such as the recent protest against the acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
He was charged with 2nd-degree murder for the death of teen Trayvon Martin in Florida, but the jury acquitted him, determining that he fought back in self-defense.
But Gallo said arson fires, graffiti paint and broken windows all have resulted from recent protests.
On the issue of the surveillance center, officials said there would be links to traffic and surveillance cameras, the ubiquitous license plate readers, crime maps, gunshot-detecting microphones and a range of other alarm systems.
Protesters at the council meeting charged that security was just a ruse, and that surveillance and a police state atmosphere were the real plans.
"The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland," Mark Raymond told the Chronicle. "This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live [in] and pass through Oakland."
Chants of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" rattled the chambers for nearly two minutes after the vote.
"This is a disaster and it is going to last for years," Cynthia Morse yelled as she stared down members of the council.
The Chronicle report said council members also told city officials to draft privacy rules, which had not yet been considered.
The Oakland Local analysis of the idea explained that the starting point was for security at the Port of Oakland, but it now has been expanded to include "surveillance enhancements for City of Oakland's historically high crime areas."
The article noted that Baig confirmed the procedures would not immediately include facial recognition software, but the system easily could be upgraded later.
At the Contra Costa Times,reporter Matthew Artz said council members responded to privacy concerns by starting out with links to city and port cameras, and a rule that cameras in schools, sports complexes or other outside agencies wouldn't be added without approval.
But ACLU attorney Linda Lye told the Times the city still is "putting the cart before the horse."
The report said the federal influence was a factor, as city officials worried they would not get the taxpayer money without acting quickly.