Privacy SOS

Activist protesting police militarization exercise says police used surveillance footage to get him fired

UPDATE here.

According to an activist in Oakland, California, police officers produced surveillance footage of his participation in a political demonstration last week to his employers, prompting his firing. The activist, who goes by @Anon4Justice on Twitter, tweeted the following this morning:




It appears as if the police used surveillance camera footage paired with records in private and public databases to identify the activist and find out where he works. The police then allegedly called his employer and notified them that, while the activist said he had been sick, he was really out at a protest confronting the police. He was subsequently fired.

The protest the activist attended was a rally in opposition to Oakland’s hosting of regional, DHS-funded ‘Urban Shield’ exercises. These are paramilitary style disaster response trainings that occur nationwide thanks to funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Thousands of law enforcement officials participated in Oakland’s Urban Shield operation this year. 

The Domain Awareness Center, police militarization and the war on dissent

The city's use of publicly funded surveillance cameras and police officers to harass and intimidate a political activist comes at a time when surveillance in Oakland is under heightened national scrutiny.

The city received $7 million from the Department of Homeland Security for port security programs, but plans to spend the funds building a massive surveillance operation it calls a “Domain Awareness Center”. The New York Times profiled the center in October 2013, describing the controversy surrounding the gargantuan surveillance dragnet:

Proponents of the Oakland initiative…say it will help the police reduce the city’s notoriously high crime rates. But critics say the program, which will create a central repository of surveillance information, will also gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents, raising legal and ethical questions about tracking people so closely.

Libby Schaaf, an Oakland City Council member, said that because of the city’s high crime rate, “it’s our responsibility to take advantage of new tools that become available.” She added, though, that the center would be able to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”

Even before the initiative, Oakland spent millions of dollars on traffic cameras, license plate readers and a network of sound sensors to pick up gunshots. Still, the city has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. And an internal audit in August 2012 found that the police had spent $1.87 million on technology tools that did not work properly or remained unused because their vendors had gone out of business.

The new center will be far more ambitious. From a central location, it will electronically gather data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, analyze that data and display some of the information on a bank of giant monitors.

Critics of these enormous, wasteful expenditures wondered aloud to the Times about what would happen with the “comprehensive information about Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing” that the DAC plans to stockpile.

“What happens when someone doesn’t like me and has access to all that information?” a public policy researcher asked

If today’s events are any indication, Oakland residents can expect the police to use the vast troves of information the city collects against them to hurt them even when they have broken no law. This kind of government action sends a chilling message to all Oakland residents: If you protest the police, they will use the powerful surveillance tools at their disposal to come after you and interfere with your life — regardless of whether or not you've done anything wrong.

Was the compilation of photographs of @Anon4Justice part of the Urban Shield exercise the activist was protesting? Is it OPD policy to use photographs of people exercising their First Amendment rights to get them in trouble with their employers? Is this kind of McCarthyite political repression how Oakland residents — or the rest of the country — want their tax dollars spent? 

UPDATE 11/12/13: @Anon4Justice has now told his story in more detail and at length. Contrary to his initial assumptions, the surveillance images of him and the truck at the protest did not come from a surveillance camera but rather from a police officer who followed him in person. His entire message, posted to a Pastebin, is copied below.

Hello. I am the one known as @anon4justice on twitter. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you all the story of how Oakland Police went above and beyond to get information about me, and how that led to me being fired from the place where I was employed for the past four years. I will start with a rally I attended three days before the rally in Oakland where this all occured…
 
On October 22, 2013 I attended a protest at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. This was the 18th annual Day Against Police Brutality. When the march returned to the Capitol after marching through several nearby streets on which our group was flanked by police on horses, bicycles, and a few cruisers, it was time for me to leave. On the way out of the area I decided to drive past the Capitol building where the rally continued and honk my horn several times in solidarity with those whom I was leaving at the protest. As I honked through the intersection a Sacramento bicycle policeman from the rally started after me with his lights flashing and yelled at me to pull over. I pulled over and was told by the officer that I was being pulled over for not having a front license plate. The vehicle which I was driving was a company vehicle and had never had a front license plate for the four years I have been driving it. I put roughly 150,000 miles on that vehicle and had never been pulled over for a missing front license plate before. The officer wrote up a fix-it ticket stating that I had to get a front plate and then get the ticket signed off by another police officer.
 
Three days later, October 25, 2013, I attended the "Facing Urban Shield" rally in Oakland. Urban Shield is an event put on by various law enforcement agencies and draws thousands of law enforcement personnel from all over the world. Urban Shield is a type of conference in which law enforcement learns newer techniques and weaponry to control the population of something such as a natural disaster or civil unrest should occur.
 
When I arrived in Oakland I found parking in a garage called the Franklin Street parking garage, on 10th St between Franklin and Broadway. I had brought several large signs with me to the event. I had so many signs that I had to make two trips to get them all to the rally. The first trip I brought several signs and sat them up all around the 30 or so protesters gathered in front of the Marriott Convention Center in which the Urban Shield meeting was taking place. As always I had a black bandana covering my face when I dropped the signs off at the rally. I then walked back to the parking garage to gather the last few signs. It is my belief that when I returned to my vehicle to get the remaining signs I was followed by an undercover/plainclothed police officer who then waited until I went back to the rally and then waited until I went back to the rally to take pictures of the truck and run the VIN number in order to obtain information on me such as my name, address, etc. Since the vehicle I was driving was a company vehicle the police couldn't get my information from simply running the plates or VIN number. I believe that after finding out it was a company vehicle and knowing they couldn't retrieve information on me they then decided to make a phone call to my employer in order to get the information they were looking for.
 
Someone from the Oakland Police Department called the company I worked for and told my employer that they were investigating a possible hit and run. The police stated that they wanted to speak with the driver of the vehicle. The police then sent two photos of the company truck parked in the Franklin Street garage and one photo of me at the rally with a bandana on my face and a red and black flag over my shoulder (taken from video surveillance) to my employer.
 
I was at the rally for only about two hours before I had to leave. As I was leaving I decided to drive past the rally and honk, waving the flag out the window in support of those still picketing. (My wife was driving at the time.) After turning from Broadway onto 6th Street we were pulled over by two cruisers and a couple of police on motorcycles. When the police confronted us they asked us both for our identification, as well as the insurance and registration for the vehicle, and told us we were being pulled over for a missing front license plate. I explained to the officers that I had already recieved a fix-it ticket three days earlier that allowed me until January to get the front license plate put on the vehicle. The officers never mentioned anything about contacting my employer or about any investigation of a hit and run (we were pulled over about 1:30pm, the call came into my company's office at 12:30pm, while we were still at the rally). After about twenty minutes they let us go on our way and didn't give us any type of ticket or citation ("I'm gonna let you go with just a warning.")
 
This event happened on a Friday on which I had called in sick so I could attend this protest. The following Monday morning I was emailed by my immediate supervisor and was told to come to the Stockton office first thing that morning. When I arrived I was sat down with my immediate supervisor and his boss, who proceeded to tell me that he had taken a call from the Oakland Police Department on Friday and then he laid out the surveillance photos on the desk in front of me. I explained that there was no hit and run, and my supervisor's boss said "I know." He then proceeded to tell me that I was being terminated from the company for using the company vehicle for personal use. He decided to skip right over a one-week suspension and move straight to termination of employment; in my opinion this was due to the surveillance photo of me with the bandana and flag.
 
The company truck and phone were taken but not before I was able to tweet out what happened.
 
The following day a friend and comrade of mine showed up at my door explaining that the news of my arrest was all over the internet and that the head of the Northern California chapter of the ACLU had been trying to reach me. He gave me a phone that I had activated and am now in talks with the ACLU and other civil rights attorneys.
 
I started a wepay account to avoid eviction from my home, and succeeded in getting the funds neccessary to keep from keep from being evicted, thanks to the incredible support from comrades across the country and the world.
 
I appreciate all the help we have recieved so far and I will continue to keep you all updated on the actions we take henceforth.
 
Here is my wepay account: http://www.gofundme.com/50kp3s

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