2013-07-18 "Oakland surveillance center raises concerns; Move for widespread monitoring by law enforcement raises concern"by Ali Winston, "Center for Investigative Reporting" [http://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Oakland-surveillance-center-raises-concerns-4671708.php]:
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Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez for "The San Francisco Chronicle". Original caption: Reneé Domingo, Oakland's Director of Emergency Services, in the main room at the Domain Awareness Center in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013. The DAC will soon combine emergency data and information sets from city police, fire, the Port of Oakland, among others in 2014.
As Oakland is rocked by renewed street protests and national attention focuses on government monitoring of phone and e-mail records, city officials are considering a federally funded project to funnel information from surveillance cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detectors and other devices into a law enforcement-run center.
The Domain Awareness Center, a joint project between the Port of Oakland and the city, started as a nationwide initiative to secure ports by connecting motion sensors and cameras in and around the shipping facilities. Since its inception in 2009, however, the project has evolved into a program that would cover much of the city.
On Tuesday evening, the Oakland City Council was expected to approve an additional $2 million in federal grants to fund the surveillance center at the Emergency Operations Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. But after an outcry from speakers about the center's lack of privacy guidelines or data retention limits, the council pulled the item from the consent calendar and postponed a vote until July 30.
Councilwoman Desley Brooks noted that the consent calendar is normally reserved for routine matters. She said funding the surveillance center "clearly, is very controversial."
Renee Domingo, the city's director of emergency services, said the city's public safety challenges and the sprawling nature of the port - which also operates Oakland International Airport - had prompted officials to design an "all-hazards system" capable of helping law enforcement respond to crime, terrorism and disasters such as earthquakes.
Cameras and Twitter -
The center would integrate computer dispatch systems for the Oakland police and fire departments, gunshot detection microphones and license-plate readers. It would use crime-mapping software and video cameras, private alarm detection programs, and even Twitter feeds to help police and emergency personnel draw up a "more effective incident response," Ahsan Baig, the city's information technology manager, told the City Council's Public Safety Committee this month.
Right now, there are 130 cameras from the Port of Oakland and four city cameras integrated into the surveillance center. Seventy-five of the port cameras are equipped with motion or image recognition technology.
Key to the operation is a geographic information system map with points representing cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detection and alarm sensors and other devices that feed into a central network. Multiple camera feeds, sensor indicators and maps can be viewed at one time alongside alerts from government agencies.
For the Fire Department, such a system would greatly expand its ability to get a handle on a crisis. Battalion Chief Darin White pointed to a fiery tanker crash on Interstate 880 in 2008 that spilled 1,000 gallons of fuel and prompted a large emergency response.
In such situations, White said, the surveillance center "will be able to see and have real-time situational awareness as they're responding to an incident."
Police usage -
Former New York and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton suggested that the Oakland Police Department make use of the surveillance project in a report in May on improving investigations. He recommended that police "significantly increase" their use of surveillance cameras in commercial areas "to provide identifications and evidence in robbery, burglary and some shooting cases. Cameras would be monitored and recorded at the Domain Awareness Center that is currently under construction."
That prospect, however, has some people concerned. Joshua Daniels, one of the speakers during Tuesday night's council meeting, said the surveillance center would give a great deal of power to a police department that "doesn't respect the rights" of Oakland residents.
"This city has a huge trust issue," Daniels said, "and it's not going to be solved by spying on your citizens."
Other agencies -
The $2 million grant that the council is considering would incorporate into the surveillance center sensors and cameras from outside agencies such as Caltrans, the Oakland Unified School District, the O.co Coliseum and Oracle Arena, and regional law enforcement intelligence centers. Such agencies would need to sign agreements with the city and the port.
The Domain Awareness Center does not have privacy guidelines or limits for retaining the data it collects, raising concerns from civil libertarians and privacy advocates.
Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, called the surveillance center "a classic illustration of mission creep."
"What are the limits on dissemination?" Lye asked. "And what are the privacy and safety protocols for handling this information internally and through outside agencies?"
Baig, the city's information technology manager, said officials will draw up guidelines on privacy and data retention during the next year. Because the surveillance center would draw on different types of sensors and cameras, Baig said, drafting such policies would be a complex process.
Reacting to protests -
Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the level of unrest Oakland has experienced in recent years made the issue an easy sell to the city. But Tien said he is concerned that the center lacks guidelines about data use or retention.
"There's no indication they've considered any privacy or civil liberties issue in the first place," Tien said.
Officials expect to have the center up and running by mid-2014. A sergeant and an analyst from the Police Department, as well as someone from the Port of Oakland, would work there. The city and port are applying for another federal grant of $2.6 million to fund these positions.
City documents indicate the projected cost is roughly $10.9 million in federal grant funding. To date, $3.4 million in federal grants has been spent on the project.
Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez for "The San Francisco Chronicle". Original caption: Renee Domingo, Oakland's director of emergency services, scans a monitoring screen at the Domain Awareness Center.