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Oakland's spy center: neighborhood safety with an Orwellian feel

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Here we are on the eve of 2014 and reports of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center are causing a lively debate among citizens calling out for safer streets and those that are fearful of the Orwellian project’s effects on privacy.

For those unfamiliar with George Orwell’s seminal novel 1984, published in 1949, it is literary political fiction and dystopian science fiction. Many of its ideas such as Big Brother, thoughtcrime, newspeak, and Telescreen are in everyday usage since its publication. The book popularized the concepts of secret surveillance, totalitarianism, and manipulation of public perception into line with the ruling government’s policies. The primary tool the government used to control the population was complete surveillance at all times.

For those unfamiliar with Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC) it is a federally funded program originally slated for the Port of Oakland with planned expansion to the City of Oakland started in 2008. Phase one, installation of the system in the Port of Oakland and at Oakland International Airport, is complete.

On the summary page of the DAC’s website the opening paragraph states, “On July 30th, 2013 the Oakland City Council unanimously approved a $2M grant for Phase 2 of the DAC, which will integrate public and private cameras and sensors from all over the city into one $10.9M mass surveillance system, funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and implemented by the military contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).”

What is going on is that the City of Oakland is now building a “fusion center” which will compile all of the information from all of surveillance sources in one spot for dissemination to a number of interested parties that include local and federal law enforcement offices.

Again, directly from the website, “The stated intent of the DAC is to improve the response time and coordination of first responders, rather than as a crime prevention strategy, but neither the city nor the program implementer has provided any data showing that DAC implementation would improve response times for emergency personnel or reduce violent crime.”

OK, well there you go. Oakland City Council unanimously approved a 10.9 million dollar advanced mass surveillance system to improve law enforcement responsiveness with absolutely no data to back it up.

Carol Miesner, a 37 year resident and homeowner in the Montclair neighborhood in Oakland, says, “We have to pay extra dollars for reactive programs that are put into place to support the failed proactive programs we are still paying for.” She goes on with, “…people on fixed incomes that support the original proactive programs, to us the need for these reactive programs is silly. To feel safe in my own home I have had to install a sophisticated video alarm system and hope the police show up. Why don’t we just spend more money on more police?”

She goes on to say that she supports the DAC program but with a saddened heart. “I support the program, anything to make Oakland safer, I just wish it did not have to be this way. The surveillance system is an intrusion into everyone’s privacy.”

Erin Lucas, a renter in the San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, is “freaked out by the cameras. It is a total invasion of my privacy. Even though the right of privacy is not specifically guaranteed in the constitution it has been set in precedence in court. This whole thing just bothers me. I wish there was another way.”

Crime in Oakland has traditionally been higher than its nearest neighbors. Oakland.net, the City of Oakland’s website, has a complicated statistics reporting system you can see here. I popped onto the real estate site Trulia and got these facts:

Oakland Property crime, 6.1%
Oakland Violent Crime, 1.91%

That means roughly 6 out of 100 people will have crimes committed against their property in Oakland this year and 2 out of 100 people will have some sort of violent crime committed against them this year.

Oakland residents are very concerned with crime. Many neighborhoods, most recently Lower Rockridge, have been crowd sourcing dollars to pay for private security companies to augment the police in their neighborhoods.

As Oakland comes into her own, many newcomers to the area are becoming very interested in gentrifying areas. People need to remember that Oakland is still a diamond in the rough and part of the polishing process means that it is going to take some time and effort from the people who live in the communities to clean them up.

What do you think? I love to hear from my readers. Have an opinion about real estate and neighborhoods in the East Bay? What do you think about the surveillance system and fusion center going into Oakland? I want to know.

If you have any other questions, or want to share your story, please reply to this post, contact me via my website, my facebook page, or on Twitter @AmericaFoy.

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