Tuesday night, the city of Oakland accepted $2 million dollars in federal funding for a surveillance project called the "Domain Awareness Center." As reported by Ars Technica, the project would create a central monitoring station for the feeds from nearly a thousand cameras, along with data from license plate readers, thermal imaging devices and gunshot detection devices. Most of the devices are already in place, but by collating the data in a central location, critics argue the city is enabling centralized surveillance.
It's the first time a domain Awareness system has faced public backlash
A slide deck published by Ars shows the full scope of the system, set to be fully deployed in June 2014. The project would ostensibly focus on the city's port system, but pull in data from a multitude of sources, including regional Caltrans highway cameras and the CCTV system in city schools. City officials say the system will help city officials share information in emergencies, and give police and firefighters more accurate data to work from. But while the city will be collecting data centrally, protestors worry that there's no data retention policy in place, to limit the privacy intrusion after the data has been collected.
Similar systems are already in place in Boston and, with Microsoft's help, in New York — but this is the first time a Domain Awareness project has faced public backlash, inspiring active protests at the city council meeting and organized opposition from local groups. "There's an enormous accountability problem here," ACLU attorney Lee Tien told The Verge. "Federal or vendor money is going to local governments for projects like this, and much of it happens before the public or elected officials ever get wind of it."