Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo: “Our right
to privacy is being challenged by the tools we carry,”
he said, including smartphones.

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Since the initial unveiling of a controversial citywide surveillance hub in Oakland in 2013, opponents have long called for a definitive privacy policy to protect citizen’s rights. Although, the scope of the proposal, known as the Domain Awareness Center (DAC), was greatly diminished by the Oakland City Council last March, the absence of a definitive policy for its new mission persisted until Tuesday when the council’s Public Safety Committee gave unanimous approval to guidelines, among other things, affirming the right to privacy in Oakland and limiting data-sharing with outside agencies

The privacy policy was drafted by an ad hoc advisory group comprised of members from the Oakland Citizens Privacy Group, along with input from city staff. Brian Hofer, a member of the group, praised staff for their input and willingness over the past nine months to work collaborative manner. The spine of the policy came also came from the American Civil Liberties Union, said Hofer.

Councilmember Desley Brooks, the chair of the public safety committee, moved the agenda item by consensus Tuesday afternoon. A 30-day public comment period will follow, she said. “We truly want to get comment,” said Brooks, who also instructed staff to add language allowing city officials and council members access to the center upon activation during emergency situations.

The current proposal would require the formation of a permanent standing advisory committee to oversee the DAC and designates the city administrator as “internal privacy officer,” The city auditor will serve as compliance officer, according to the policy, and the Public Ethics Commission as ombudsman for complaints. Violation of the privacy policy would be punishable by a misdemeanor and fines. “This policy is designed to see that the DAC processes are transparent, presumes innocence, and protects all people’s privacy and civil liberties,” according to the draft policy.

Access to information procured by DAC is limited to designated city and port employees on a “need to know basis,” in addition, to limits on sharing its data. “In order for DAC staff to provide DAC data to non-City of Oakland agencies there must be a warrant based upon probable cause, court order, or a written memorandum of understanding or contract approved by the City Council after enactment of this policy.”

The privacy policy will come back to the committee sometime in early April, added Brooks. If approved, the full council could receive the policy later that month.

If successful, the inclusion of definitive policy to protect residents from digital infringement of the privacy would be another success for advocates, some of which, also pressured the City Council last year to dramatically limit the DAC to only the port and not throughout Oakland.

The surveillance hub, originally planned to be outfitted with disparate data feeds, from security cameras at Oakland schools to city streets and various other state and federal agencies to protect the Port of Oakland, was limited last March 2014 to functions only dealing with the port. Funding for the original DAC came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Port of Oakland’s Board of Commissioners then pulled funding for the DAC last year even though its chief function only dealt with port security. Some Oakland council members appeared perplexed by the port’s decision. However, its staff noted the city remains the port’s first responder in cases of emergency.

“I’m very disappointed in the port commission’s decision to pullback funding that was previously promised for this operation,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb. “That decision is shameful in my opinion.”

Earlier, a port official told the committee its commissioners voted to “reprogram” its portion of federal funding of the DAC when the city council limited the proposal to the port last March. Instead, because the port already maintains additional security on its own, it would be better suited to focus on its own resources absent the far-reaching multi-agency DAC.