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21 Nov, 2013 18:29

Oakland moves forward with plans for Orwellian surveillance complex

Oakland moves forward with plans for Orwellian surveillance complex

Plans to finalize construction on a controversial high-tech surveillance hub in Oakland, California will continue as planned following a heated City Council meeting late Tuesday evening that stretched into Wednesday morning.

Lawmakers in Oakland voted 6-to-1 at the gathering to move forward with plans pertaining to the city’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC), an all-seeing intelligence-analysis complex that when completed will link data captured by surveillance cameras, gunshot detectors, license plate readers, Geographic Information Systems mapping and social media feeds to provide law enforcement personnel and emergency responders with 24/7 access to seemingly all public activity within the town of 400,000.

The city intends on having the DAC fully operational by July 2014, much to the chagrin of privacy advocates who have campaigned adamantly in recent months to try and halt officials from moving forward with the project. This week, the City Council indicated they have no plans to let those who object to the DAC thwart its opening, which has already been put at risk following news that the project’s previous contractor had broken a little-known Oakland law dating back to 1988.

Tuesday’s meeting was held in order for the City Council to decide whether or not a new contractor should be hired to assemble the DAC in phase 2 of the construction after the project’s previous builder,  Science Applications International Corp (SAIC), was found to be in violation of a quarter-century-old statute that prohibits Oakland form doing business with companies linked to the nuclear weapons industry.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that officials in Oakland will now examine bids from four other companies who have previously answered to the city’s request for proposals — Motorola Solutions, G4S, GTSI Inc. and Schneider Electric — but Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express was quick to point out on Tuesday that “a background check on each of these companies shows that all of them have obtained nuclear weapons related contracts from branches of the US military or from the US Department of Energy.”

“Reopening the bidding process would take too long and the DAC might not be completed on time to receive the funding,” added BondGraham, who acknowledged that a federal grant worth $2 million unanimously approved by the council in July could be jeopardized if Oakland officials do not act fast enough.

In all, the entire project is expected to come at a price tag of roughly $10.9 million. But while federal grants aplenty are covering construction of the facility, local residents of Oakland are insisting quite vocally that the city should re-think plans to put seemingly all public activity under the microscope of law enforcement officials in real-time.

Tuesday’s meeting was only the latest City Council gathering concerning the DAC, but not the first time that protesters came out in droves to object to furthering the project. Police were once again on hand at the event to eject unruly demonstrators, and Council President Pat Kernighan eventually called on them to clear the chamber after chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” broke out after the vote was tallied.

According to the Chronicle, protesters had urged city officials to delay their decision on whether or not a new contractor can take the helms of the project by calling for the council to table the motion.

"Nobody in Oakland wants to be monitored 24/7," Oakland permaculture designer Ryan Rising told the paper. "I see it as a pilot program for other cities to build their own surveillance centers." The DAC page on the Oakland Wiki website estimates over 70 residents signed up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, which included the likes of Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco. 

Here's me, just a few minutes ago, doing my best to speak truth to power against the #DAC at #oakmtgpic.twitter.com/jaLXNXVJ5H

— Parker Higgins (@xor) November 20, 2013

“At a time when mass surveillance is getting unprecedented attention, it is unconscionable to push these plans forward without robust participation,” Higgins said on the stand, according to Jake Nicol of OaklandNorth.

When the protesters’ pleas were ignored and the council voted almost-unanimously to approve a resolution that would let a new contractor be hired, residents began a call-and-response chant that lasted, according to the Chronicle’s Will Kane, until the chamber was cleared.

"We are calling you out on an illegitimate decision-making process in this city, that doesn't allow people to participate!" the irate residents argued.

According to the Oakland Wiki, the city will expedite a request for proposals regarding phase 2 in order to meet the terms of eligibility set forth by the Department of Homeland Security with regards to the government funding it is providing. This time, interested contractors will reportedly have to show the council that they are in compliance with the ordinance that prohibits companies with nuclear weapons industry ties.