Oakland City officials, including the City Council, Mayor and staff, cannot justify their support of the Domain Awareness Center by claiming to be ignorant of its risks to our safety and security.
Although 60 percent of Americans oppose the National Security Agency’s spying on our telephone and email communications, Oakland officials are supporting the creation of a full service urban surveillance network that threatens the privacy and security of everyone in the City.
Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center is a facility that will be able to monitor, merge, and permanently store at least the following kinds of data:
1. Photographs and videos generated by a growing network of publicly and privately owned cameras throughout the City.
2. Audio recordings made by Oakland’s “Shot Spotter” system. We have heard that this system’s microphones are so sensitive that they can record conversations in the streets close to system towers.
3. Photographs taken constantly by license plate readers mounted in Oakland police cars.
4. In the future, social media such as Facebook and Twitter and Internet sites.
Internal City communications gathered and published by the East Bay Express confirm that DAC’s targets are suspected terrorists, political and Occupy activists, and labor unions – not violent criminals. The DAC will not make our neighborhoods safer.
Full development of the DAC will allow law enforcement at all levels to track our movements, reconstruct our activities, and plot our networks of family, friends, and political associates.
The City’s contribution to running the center will be at least $1.5 annually, money that could otherwise be used to operate our parks, fix our streets, or maintain fire stations.
A short history lesson demonstrates why we should all care about the DAC.
During and just after World War I, tens of millions of Americans, including state governors and members of the U.S. Senate, concluded that the war had been fought simply to further the big business, banking, and manufacturing interests of the participant countries.
The pro-war federal government, with a young J. Edgar Hoover leading the effort, began keeping information – on 430,000 index cards – of people classified as subversives – peace activists, unionists, Wobblies, radicals, etc.
In 1919 and 1921, Attorney General Palmer unleashed Hoover to lead raids that led to 5,000 arrests, thousands of deportations, and the end of that movement.
After World War II there was very widespread agreement among Americans that the U.S. and Soviet Union should continue their successful wartime partnership to create a peaceful world where their different systems could compete peacefully for public support.
By 1950 Hoover had dossiers on 450,000 Americans, and a massive red baiting attack was used to justify the Taft-Hartley Act and other attacks on a growing, powerful labor movement, civil rights organizations including even the moderate NAACP, peace groups, and every organization that included communists or so-called fellow travelers among their members or supporters.
The progressive and labor movements in this country have never fully recovered from the attacks and prosecutions of the McCarthy era, even considering the upsurges of the 1960s.
The surveillance tools available to the government today make Hoover’s methods look like child’s play.
If the government could keep track of 450,000 Americans in 1950 by listening to their telephone calls, reading their mail, and following them, think of how many can be tracked using the tools available to the DAC, Fusion Centers, and NSA.
As I have said before, creating a safe and prosperous city requires a commitment to securing social and economic justice for all people in Oakland.
Rather than expensive technology, we need a decentralized police department staffed by officers who will work closely and cooperatively with our communities to protect people’s lives, property and constitutional rights.
As Mayor of Oakland, I will make sure that the DAC is closed and that our city’s police are prohibited from spying on the people of Oakland.
Dan Siegel is a civil rights attorney and a candidate for mayor.