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Oakland's massive new surveillance machine doesn't care about crime, it cares about protesters

Sure, the surveillance device was sold to the public as answer to the out-of-control murders, shootings, and robberies plaguing my fair city, but any look at the actual documents involved in the commissioning of the spy machine reveals that the folks behind it really want to track and bust ordinary protesters.

It's not about crime; it's about Occupy.

The Real Purpose of Oakland's Surveillance Center | Feature | Oakland, Berkeley & Bay Area News & Arts Coverage

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.

"Information is always fundamentally about control," she added. Once it's fully operational, the DAC will give Oakland officials an unprecedented ability to monitor peoples' movements, associations, and activities.

The Domain Awareness Center is being built in stages and will merge OPD's existing license-plate scanners and gunshot detectors with video feeds from hundreds of surveillance cameras — many already in place and some to be installed in the future by several different agencies throughout the city — into a central hub. Oakland police will monitor this "flood of data," as one DAC project presentation called it. Originally limited to monitoring the Port of Oakland, the DAC has since expanded to encompass the entire city.
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