Members of the Oakland City Council,
My name is Joshua Daniels and I have been a resident of Oakland's council district 3 for the past 5 years. I am writing today to urge you to reject Item 35 on the agenda for the special meeting of the Oakland City Council on July 30, 2013, which is funding for Phase 2 of the Domain Awareness Center project ( http://oaklandwiki.org/Domain_Awareness_Center ).
I personally have no problem with these DHS funds being spent on reasonable security measures for the port itself, as long as there are well-vetted assurances that those measures will not violate the privacy rights and constitutional rights of Oakland residents. However, the expansion of this system beyond the port to include public and private cameras and sensors from all over Oakland, as described in the plans for Phase 2 of the DAC, is a classic example of "mission creep" and the continued militarization of our communities.
Oakland has an epidemic of violent crime, but there is a large and mounting body of research that shows that doing things like militarizing law enforcement, stop and frisk policing, implementing ubiquitous surveillance systems, etc. actually make communities less safe. It makes sense -- when you treat innocent citizens like prisoners or "the enemy," the social contract has been broken. I would encourage you all to read a piece published in The Atlantic last week that focused on a violence-prevention program at a notoriously violent school in Philadelphia (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/a-philadelphia-schools-big-bet-on-nonviolence/277893/ ). When the school district decided to remove the metal detectors from the school, to stop treating students like prisoners, and start offering them real human support, violence dropped by 90%. Spying on your residents isn't the way to restore trust and safety in this community. I think deep down you all know that.
Earlier this week, a bi-partisan piece of legislation in the House of Representatives to de-fund parts of the NSA and prohibit the warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans by the NSA (the Amash Amendment) failed by only 12 votes, and probably failed largely because it was a rather clumsy piece of policy. Rep. Barbara Lee voted for the Amash Amendment, signaling her willingness to support even Republican-sponsored legislation to rein in the ever-expanding surveillance state. Also earlier this week, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon delivered an eloquent speech warning of the dangers of ubiquitous domestic surveillance, saying, "If we do not seize this unique moment to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it" (his remarks can be found here: http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/blog/post/wyden-on-nsa-domestic-surveillance). The American people are waking up to the fact that the sprawling surveillance and military industrial complex isn't keeping them safer, but draining the country of money, resources, brilliant minds, and bright futures, and depriving us of a world of peace and justice. Congress is making a stand right now. The Amash Amendment may not have passed, but it was closer than anyone imagined it would be, and it signals the changing sentiments in this country regarding domestic militarization (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/us/politics/challenges-to-us-intelligence-agencies-recall-senate-inquiry-of-70s.html?_r=0 ). Let's take a stand here locally as well, especially since the iron is hot in many respects right now. I don't believe the Oakland city council necessarily wants to use such a system against the people, but regardless of intentions, this project would help put in place what many have called "turnkey totalitarianism." Let's be conscious of our moment in history, and say no to this Brave New World.
The entity making any proposition has the burden of proof. In this case, the city council is proposing to install a sprawling and invasive surveillance system all over Oakland, so the burden of proof is yours to show that it is needed and would help improve the safety and quality of life in this community. It is my contention that you haven't submitted the slightest bit of evidence to that effect, much less met the burden of proof. And even if you did meet the burden of proof, and did show this system is needed, you would still need to publicly vet privacy concerns, agree on best practices, have data retention policies in place, inform the public what agencies would have access to this data, etc. etc. BEFORE building out the system, not after.
So I beg of you, don't begin with the assumption that this DAC project is a good thing, and just look for a way to pass it. From my perspective the likelihood of having more negative than positive outcomes from such a system is a very real (and scary) possibility. Let's reject this poorly-conceived plan outright and instead focus our attention on substantive reforms in our city's government that actually will restore trust, safety, and justice in our community.
Oakland District 3 Resident