Friday, January 24, 2014

Oakland OKs money for surveillance center

Oakland OKs money for surveillance center

Updated 11:15 am, Wednesday, July 31, 2013

  • A group of Oakland residents turned out to protest the city's proposed Domain Awareness Center, which would monitor live cameras and other feeds to respond to crime and disasters. Photo: Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
    A group of Oakland residents turned out to protest the city's proposed Domain Awareness Center, which would monitor live cameras and other feeds to respond to crime and disasters. Photo: Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle

(07-31) 11:13 PDT OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council voted unanimously early Wednesday to move ahead with a controversial surveillance center that could eventually allow police and city officials to continuously monitor video cameras, gunshot detectors and license plate readers.
The issue was one of two high-profile measures that came before the council in a meeting that began Tuesday evening. Members also approved a ban at protests on items such as hammers and spray paint cans, on the grounds that vandals could use them as weapons.
The decision to accept a $2.2 million federal grant to help pay for the surveillance center infuriated protesters who crowded into the council's chambers for an hours-long meeting. Chants of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" rattled the chambers for nearly two minutes after the vote.
"This is a disaster and it is going to last for years," Cynthia Morse yelled as she stared down members of the council.
At issue was the Domain Awareness Center, a proposed city and port surveillance center that would link dozens of traffic and surveillance cameras with police and fire dispatch systems, Twitter feeds, crime maps, gunshot-detecting microphones and alarm programs.
City officials say the federally funded center would allow authorities to improve their response to crime, terrorism, earthquakes, fires or hazardous materials incidents.
"The most important purpose of the center is to save lives by coordinating real-time information," said Renee Domingo, the city's director of emergency services.
But dozens of speakers said that was a ruse, and that the center would inevitably turn Oakland into a police state.
"The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland," said Mark Raymond, 20. "This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live and pass through Oakland."
Once it is operational in July 2014, the center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way will be monitored 24 hours a day by a police officer, a police analyst and a person from the Port of Oakland, Domingo said. The center will eventually cost $10.9 million in federal grants.
Analysts will be able to use large screen to match video feeds paired with crime maps or audio recording of gunfire and government and media alerts.
The resolution to accept a $2.2 million federal grant first came up for a City Council vote on July 16. The council postponed a decision at the time, after opponents said there were no controls to ensure that the information the comes into the center wouldn't be improperly shared or used to invade people's privacy.
Three council members added amendments ordering city officials to draft privacy rules. But Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the council hadn't gone far enough.
"What they did is approve a vast surveillance center without understanding the implications," Lye said after the vote. "The privacy policies would be drafted only after the center is built. At that point, what opportunity will there be for to determine if the safeguards are sufficient?"
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said she had tried to balance individual privacy rights with the city's need for security.
"We have tried our best to find the sweet spot where are going to take advantage of the tools that we have at hand to make our city safe. ... We have done everything we can to safeguard privacy," Schaaf said before being drowned out by boos, howls and calls of "Fascism!"
One protester later suggested that Schaaf "go home to your mansion and kill yourself."
After voting to accept the surveillance center grant, the council approved a proposal banning protesters from carrying hammers, slingshots, clubs, wrenches, spray paint and other potentially destructive items during demonstrations.
Councilman Noel Gallo introduced the measure after protesters, angered by George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, smashed windows and spray-painted buildings in downtown Oakland.
During one of several protests in the days after the verdict, a vandal took a hammer to the face of a waiter trying to protect the restaurant Flora on Telegraph Avenue. The waiter was injured but has recovered.
Oakland first tried to ban such items from demonstrations in 2012, when Occupy Oakland protesters broke downtown windows on several occasions. A council committee shelved the idea after activists disrupted a meeting, saying the effort was a violation of their freedom of speech.
In approving the ban early Wednesday, several council members said they had had enough of the vandalism. No members opposed the measure; Councilman Dan Kalb abstained.
"What has concerned me about protests in Oakland is how destructive they have been," said Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney.

Will Kane is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @WillKane

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