Oakland Using Expensive Surveillance System to Track Protesters

Was sold to community as way to fight crime


Oakland's citywide surveillance system, the Domain Awareness Center, or DAC, gained national notoriety earlier this year when some city residents voiced strong concerns about the project's privacy and civil rights implications. City officials and supporters of the DAC have responded by contending that objections over privacy and civil rights issues are overblown and that the true purpose of the surveillance center is to help Oakland finally deal with its violent crime problem. But thousands of pages of emails, meeting minutes, and other public documents show that, behind closed doors, city staffers have not been focusing on how the DAC can lower Oakland's violent crime rate.

So what is the real purpose of the massive $10.9 million surveillance system? The records we examined show that the DAC is an open-ended project that would create a surveillance system that could watch the entire city and is designed to easily incorporate new high-tech features in the future. And one of the uses that has piqued the interest of city staffers is the deployment of the DAC to track political protesters and monitor large demonstrations.

Linda Lye, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, was alarmed when we showed her emails that revealed that the Oakland Police Department has already started using the DAC to keep tabs on people engaged in First Amendment activity. "The fact that the focus so far has been on political protests, rather than the violent crime that's impacting Oakland residents, is troubling, and telling about how the city plans to use the DAC," she said.

(Hat tip to John K. Ross)