Privacy SOS

Oakland doesn’t want a bloated surveillance center, thank you very much

Local anti-surveillance advocacy works.

Last night, about one hundred Oakland residents and concerned Bay Area denizens representing themselves and organizations like the EFF and ACLU told the Oakland city council to vote NO on funding phase two development of the so-called “Domain Awareness Center”. The contract for the second phase of the mass surveillance operation would cost $1.6 million. The city council punted on the vote, after about 70 people testified in opposition to the plan. According to reports, not one Oakland resident testified in support of phase two investment.

The city had originally chosen the global military and surveillance behemoth Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as contractor for the DAC project. The choice of SAIC drew criticism and created controversy, in part because of the firm’s nuclear weapons work. According to Bay Area journalist Darwin Bond-Graham, SAIC “is involved in the U.S. nuclear weapons program, a fact that violates Measure T, a city voter proposition that makes Oakland a nuclear free zone. Measure T and Ordinance No. 11062 C.M.S. bar any contractor that is involved in nuclear weapons work from doing business with Oakland, and SAIC’s contributions to nuclear weapons are well-documented.” In 2007, SAIC posted an annual revenue of over $8 billion. The corporation reportedly employs about 20,000 people with security clearance, making it one of the largest private spy corporations in the world. After outcry about the nuclear issue, the city announced that it would drop SAIC from the project.

If the city council follows through on its plans to expand the surveillance operations beyond the port and throughout Oakland proper, the DAC will cost almost $11 million. Documents obtained by journalists Bond-Graham and Ali Winston show that, contrary to officials' public statements, a major focus of the surveillance center’s operations will be to spy on dissidents:

The records we examined show that the DAC is an open-ended project that would create a surveillance system that could watch the entire city and is designed to easily incorporate new high-tech features in the future. And one of the uses that has piqued the interest of city staffers is the deployment of the DAC to track political protesters and monitor large demonstrations.

But Oakland isn’t lying down in the face of this gargantuan surveillance operation. If last night’s meeting is any indication, the city’s long history of vigorous civic engagement won’t be slowed down by an encroaching surveillance state. I wish the best of luck to my colleagues, friends, and fellow activists fighting the good fight in the Bay, in part because what happens there will have ripple effects throughout the country. What happens in policing in one major metropolitan area tends to affect other cities, too, so we are paying close attention to your struggle.

Let’s hope the city council heeds the public’s concerns and rejects plans to expand the DAC beyond the ports, which it was originally meant to protect. We don’t need dystopian, anti-dissent surveillance systems in our cities, and we won’t accept them without a fight. All eyes on Oakland—except yours, spies.

For detailed information about the DAC and efforts to fight it, see this comprehensive Wiki. Check out this excellent cartoon about the DAC by Susie Cagel and Sarah Jeong.

This post was corrected to reflect the fact that SAIC is not the current contractor.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.