The arguments for and against the Oakland Domain Awareness Center project are well-established. After hours of community testimony at the Oakland City Council meetings Feb. 18 and March 4, the council voted to rein in the planned surveillance center.
What isn't so well-established is what the center was for in the first place, and what policies would prevent the Orwellian nightmare presented by DAC opponents.
The bad news is there isn't any policy.
I came by this information accidentally, after receiving an invitation to the Advisory Committee to work on the privacy framework for the new spying machine.
I was more than a little surprised because my organization has a not very subtle anti-surveillance position.
However, I dutifully read over the first draft and submitted five pages of comments, which can be found on the Media Alliance website.
Here's what I found:
The surveillance system has a mission. "The mission of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC) is to: (1) improve readiness to prevent, respond to, and recover from major emergencies at the Port and in the greater Oakland region and (2) ensure better multi-agency coordination in response to emergencies across the larger San Francisco Bay Area."
I'm familiar with mission statements and "mission creep," which means the distance between what you say the purpose is, and what you really do. So mission creep was evident when the DAC became a colossus of crime-fighting and the missing ingredient to control Oakland's street crime problems.
An emergency can be many things. What is an emergency in Oakland's privacy framework?
"Air pollution, fire, flood, storm, epidemic, riot, drought, sudden and severe energy shortage, plant or animal infestation or disease, the state governor's warning of an earthquake or volcanic prediction, or an earthquake, or other conditions, which are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of the city of Oakland and require the combined forces of other political subdivisions to combat."
As it turns out, during fires, floods and earthquakes, protests, smoggy days and invasions of avaricious raccoons, as outside forces are being imported for mutual combat, DAC geo-location data can be released to, well, just about anybody.
"During a major emergency, city of Oakland agency directors and/or their designees in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and outside governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies' staff assisting with the major emergency or disaster (such as the Red Cross) that would report to EOC may have access to the DAC computers and display."
Even the IRS is not excluded.
"Third party auditors, federal, state, or local grantor auditors or the city auditor may have access to any stored data."
The Oakland Privacy Framework is a framework for the elimination of personal privacy. Mayor Jean Quan commented to this paper that the vote "will give us time to talk about privacy."
The whole country has been talking about privacy since June. The consensus is that an emergency doesn't mean it is open season on human rights and civil liberties.
Oakland has a rich legacy of civil rights advocacy. This is a vicious case of mission creep.
Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, an Oakland-based democratic communications advocate. For more information, go to www.media-alliance.org.