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"Promises to get data retention, privacy policies in place later."
August 1, 2013 10:55 AM   Subscribe

On July 30th, the Oakland City Council unanimously voted to accept $2 million in federal funds to create a 24/7 "Domain Awareness Center" that would "link surveillance cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detectors, Twitter feeds, alarm notifications and other data into a unified 'situational awareness' tool for law enforcement."

"The cops are tracking my car—and yours"
posted by brundlefly (53 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't happen here.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:02 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's backdoor fascism
posted by Renoroc at 11:03 AM on August 1, 2013


I'm going to start referring to my ears as "gunshot detectors."
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:06 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right. Because Oakland's law enforcement has historically shown itself to be among the most professional, responsible, and law-abiding of America's law enforcement organizations.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


From the second link:

Phase 2 of the DAC will implemented by the military contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Anyone want to know what else SAIC makes?
posted by antonymous at 11:08 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, right Comrades?

(Wish this hamburger tasted better...)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:09 AM on August 1, 2013


Renoroc: "It's backdoor fascism"

Backdoor? Just barely. I'm actually pretty tolerant of these things (relative to other Mefites, I think) but I'm not sure I could come up with a more fascist dystopian sounding name for a government project than "Domain Awareness Center" if you gave me all week and a nineteen-hundred and eighty-four point head start.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:14 AM on August 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


I wonder if this would be susceptible to people on Twitter changing their locations to Oakland en masse like the Tehran thing.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


On some levels, I appreciate the direction that this is heading in -- I work in information security, and aggregating intelligence from multiple logging sources is the best method for keeping a handle on what's going right (and wrong) on your network.

On the other hand, there are a host of issues that come up when you do this. If I need more data, I'll interrogate configuration settings on a server or a firewall, or perhaps drill into device specific logging. At risk of stating the obvious, devices don't have civil liberties.

HIPAA and HITECH provide a bit of a model for limiting access to these sorts of data, and a privacy law that limits governmental use of the data to reasonable and necessary access on a need-to-know basis would be a start. This method has its own issues, though. Mission creep, for starters, makes it easy to make a blanket statement that all analysts need access to all data. You also have civil liberty issues in the running down of leads -- what constitutes cause for tracking and questioning a citizen? Being in proximity to a crime? Having a car that's the same color as one used in commission of a crime?

Further, the government has a bad track record on oversight for functions protecting us from crime and terrorism (real or imagined).

Honestly, I think the best solution for something like this would be paid technical and independent oversight that can legitimately challenge the boundaries of need-to-know. Such a position would never be given teeth, if ever it happened; after all, we need to think of the safety of our children when evaluating any restriction on data collection or protecting privacy rights.
posted by bfranklin at 11:22 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this would be susceptible to people on Twitter changing their locations to Oakland en masse like the Tehran thing.

Feh, just cross-reference each person versus the mobile networks they try to connect to a la Nordstroms.

Lying about where you are using a technology is useless at this point. If big brother wants to know where you are - they know. Instead, buy 10 mobile devices with your credentials and give them away to people in Oakland.

Sure your credit is killed, but on a positive note - no one knows if the real slim shady has stood up.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Remember not to Google "backpacks" and "pressure cookers," unless you'd like to meet some LEOs.
posted by adipocere at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


So the next logical step would be to incorporate a predictive algorithm to facilitate the deployment of resources. Possibly with some automated responses, depending on the input.

I'm not sure if it's more like Skynet or Minority Report...
posted by darkstar at 11:27 AM on August 1, 2013


How to Block a Surveillance Camera: A DIY Art Tuturial from Ai Weiwei

Dear NSA: I am in no way encouraging this behavior. It's just art!
posted by homunculus at 11:27 AM on August 1, 2013


What's the supposed legitimate case for folding in Twitter feeds? Do the kids organize protests using tweets these days? Are people live tweeting bank robberies?

I just, I can't imagine a police investigation where following the right hashtag would have made any difference?
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:28 AM on August 1, 2013


Oakland's police force is badly understaffed. Now that shootings, burglaries, and carjackings are migrating from International Blvd. into the hills, homeowners are eager to give up a little essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety.

This goes to show how critical a functioning local government is to an individual's civil liberties.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:28 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So the next logical step would be to incorporate a predictive algorithm to facilitate the deployment of resources.

This is already happening. Philadelphia has had great success with integrating GIS and crime reports. It has been recognized as one of the best programs integrating GIS into police operations in the country.

Amusingly, this very effective program doesn't rely on total domain awareness; it relies on simpler metrics that have been proven out to yield results. It's a modernization of the pin-and-map method seen on many a police procedural.

This would actually be my other concern with Oakland's program -- is there any evidence pointing to this methodology yielding results? Or is this just collecting grants and data to look cutting edge?
posted by bfranklin at 11:34 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Remember not to Google "backpacks" and "pressure cookers," unless you'd like to meet some LEOs.

Basically, the government is lying about what data it is collecting on us and how they use it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would be very curious to find out if scans of official police vehicles, officers' private vehicles, and officers' families' private vehicles are stored and handled in the same way that those of the general public are.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:44 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


ceribus peribus: "Do the kids organize protests using tweets these days?"

Yep. Also Vibe.
posted by brundlefly at 11:44 AM on August 1, 2013


What's the supposed legitimate case for folding in Twitter feeds?

Gang and drug intelligence units love the Twatter. Imagine the amount of useful information LEO can obtain from Twatter if they get an unfiltered (i.e. real time without deletes) stream of Twatter posts and can cross-reference that with their plethora of internal notes and databases.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 11:47 AM on August 1, 2013


When my business partner and I investigated building a somewhat similar system in response to an RFP, I learned about Whitespace. I can only hope the people who build this are just as conscientious.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:47 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just, I can't imagine a police investigation where following the right hashtag would have made any difference?

...really? I can think of like, a bajillion.
posted by 3FLryan at 11:48 AM on August 1, 2013



This is crazy and stupid, and I can't believe the Oakland city council passed it unanimously.

What's the supposed legitimate case for folding in Twitter feeds? Do the kids organize protests using tweets these days? Are people live tweeting bank robberies?

I knew exactly which block Oakland protesters were during the riots, thanks to people tweeting about it. Not just protesters, but also bystanders and various news orgs. People tweet about helicopters, police cars, sirens, groups of people gathering, car accidents, traffic backups, power outages, fires, and all kinds of useful things if you live in a place where enough people use it.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:53 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was near in time and space to a shooting locally. I was unaware of it. But Twitter had the details of what happened almost immediately.
posted by zippy at 11:54 AM on August 1, 2013


The next step of course will be top integrate the system with armed surveillance drones, run out of Bangladeshto minimize lawsuit potential. THEN we'll feel safe!
posted by happyroach at 11:57 AM on August 1, 2013


Maybe this will help with that whole 20% of murder cases being solved here.

That would be neat.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:59 AM on August 1, 2013


Thanks; so there's more to twitter than instagram, liveblogging tv shows and breaking media news. Wasn't thinking local enough, I guess.

It does make me feel a little bit like Toby in the West Wing complaining about WTO protestors, though: "The police are ahead of them. They know where they'll be and what'll happen. Know how? By logging on to their website."
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:04 PM on August 1, 2013


For those people who aren't actually living in Oakland, people who don't have dead bodies appear on their street in broad daylight on a weekday afternoon, people who don't hear gunshots every night while they're laying in bed trying to fall asleep, people who don't live a quarter of a mile from an 8-year-old shot to death indoors by an assailant who rang the doorbell and then opened fire...

Can you find it in your hearts to understand that we are tired, and so very afraid, every single day, and a bad decision is being made out of fear? Have none of you ever made a bad decision in those circumstances?

And can you tell us what we should do, instead? Because I feel hopeless. Can you solve this problem for us, please?
posted by jesourie at 12:04 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Further, the government has a bad track record on oversight for functions protecting us from crime and terrorism (real or imagined).

As true as that is, it is not as though the alternatives are superior.

And, as history has shown, these things move in fits and starts. Government/society does something, overreaches, gets knocked back, finds a new thing, and the process repeats.

So, the governments of the US are doing this because the benefits are manifest. The potential for abuse exists, however, in American society doing something about a problem before it becomes a problem is nigh impossible.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:06 PM on August 1, 2013


Renoroc: "It's backdoor fascism"

Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks.

Guess what happens next.
posted by boo_radley at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


the benefits are manifest.

Has this been proven out? Or is this something we're assuming a priori?

One of the unfortunate parts of these information aggregation systems is that they are often almost useless if you don't have excellent (read: expensive) domain experts making good decisions about tuning it.
posted by bfranklin at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing that immediately struck me about the program is that $2 million is not even vaguely enough money to make a program like this work. A program like this would be really expensive, requiring a lot of IT assets, facilities, some research and development, etc. $2 million isn't a tenth of what it would cost to effectively implement. Even the $10.9 million cost of the entire surveillance system (in one of the posted links) doesn't seem like enough, particularly if that value is intended to include the cost to operate the system.

So, if it helps, I really think it's not funded nearly enough to actually work. My guess is the actual intention is to funnel pork to SAIC, not actually accomplish anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, at least we can all feel secure there's no way, say, a cannibal cop could use a system like this to stalk "fantasy" victims. I'm sure no one will be authorized to do that sort of thing. And it's not like Oakland Police have ever been known to abuse their power to engage in criminal activities themselves.

And can you tell us what we should do, instead? Because I feel hopeless. Can you solve this problem for us, please?

I really wish I could offer something comforting and simple, but one thing I do know is that just throwing more technology at cultural problems won't necessarily solve them. If there's a culture of corruption within the Oakland police department, that might explain why so many murders go unsolved . In that case, giving the police more power probably isn't going to improve the situation all that much.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:14 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


For those people who aren't actually living in Oakland, people who don't have dead bodies appear on their street in broad daylight on a weekday afternoon, people who don't hear gunshots every night while they're laying in bed trying to fall asleep, people who don't live a quarter of a mile from an 8-year-old shot to death indoors by an assailant who rang the doorbell and then opened fire...

Can you find it in your hearts to understand that we are tired, and so very afraid, every single day, and a bad decision is being made out of fear? Have none of you ever made a bad decision in those circumstances?

And can you tell us what we should do, instead? Because I feel hopeless. Can you solve this problem for us, please?


I live in Oakland. I'm honestly at least as worried about being victimized by the cops as I am of robbery, assault, etc, by non-cops. And it's not clear how this system will be used to prevent actual crimes, but it is clear from recent history how it will be used to suppress grassroots communities and community organizing.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


I was about to post something, but spaceman_spiff said it better and more succinctly.
posted by brundlefly at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2013


It's stories like this one that make me appreciate not living in areas that would agree to this.
posted by atbash at 12:39 PM on August 1, 2013


Can you find it in your hearts to understand that we are tired, and so very afraid, every single day, and a bad decision is being made out of fear?

Oh, I understand. Doesn't mean I'm not going to talk about it being a bad decision.

Given that the Oakland Police Dept. has such an extensive record of abuse that they've spent years fending off federal takeover, I am less than sanguine that more police power (GI Joe didn't lie: knowledge is power) will do more good than harm.
posted by Zed at 1:07 PM on August 1, 2013


I called it a bad decision. I believe it to be one. Please don't gloss over that part of my comment.

I am just asking for this conversation to include a little insight about why people are grasping at straws like this and some compassion for the circumstances that make people desperate for something, anything, to make it safer here.

Edited to add that having lived in and owned property in Area 4 for many years, the crime in Cambridge and crime in Oakland make that article an entirely useless comparison and pretty irrelevant to this conversation.
posted by jesourie at 1:19 PM on August 1, 2013


Please don't gloss over that part of my comment.

I both quoted it and echoed it. I wouldn't think that constitutes glossing over it.
posted by Zed at 1:23 PM on August 1, 2013


I just want to be clear that I'm not being an apologist for this program.
posted by jesourie at 1:25 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am just asking for this conversation to include a little insight about why people are grasping at straws like this and some compassion for the circumstances that make people desperate for something, anything, to make it safer here.

Are we supposed to be feeling this compassion for the councilmembers who voted for this? It's not like the program was approved by some California-style public referendum.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:29 PM on August 1, 2013


On some levels, I appreciate the direction that this is heading in -- I work in information security, and aggregating intelligence from multiple logging sources is the best method for keeping a handle on what's going right (and wrong)...

Is that down the hall from information retrieval? I hope you haven't gotten roped into that "Buttle/Tuttle" mess-up...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:55 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real purpose of programs like these is to funnel tax money to the corporations that provide the underlying equipment and service. Any actual safety improvements are incidental. You can bet Oakland won't bother auditing the program for effectiveness in any meaningful way, but that the city will happily approve paying large sums to the provider year after year.
posted by dsword at 2:04 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


And whaddayawanna bet all this surveillance still won't do jack about the street crime in Oakland. But I'm sure it isn't about that. It's all about catching terrorists.

All the terrorists who want to attack Oakland.
posted by evil otto at 2:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, say this program takes a bunch of really dangerous people off the streets, it meets its stated goals and is a boon for the city. But at some point the constitutionality of this kind of thing gets challenged at the Supreme Court and the boundaries of this kind of surveillance overreach are, as Pogo_Fuzzybutt said, knocked back. Does that mean mass overturning of sentences and all those people back on the street?
posted by jason_steakums at 2:25 PM on August 1, 2013


Someone needs to explain to politicians that 1984 was not written as a cookbook.
posted by Twang at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"To Guard Citizens"
posted by lucidium at 6:04 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks.

Hmm except that that didn't happen. From alicublog, who's been following Catalano since she was a frothing warblogger back in the day-

Eventually, from TechCrunch:

Catalano asserts that the visit was likely prompted by her husband searching for the term “backpacks” in close conjunction with her searching for the term “pressure cookers” and her son reading the news. Or something.
Turns out the visit was prompted by the searches, but not in the way most speculation asserted – by a law enforcement-initiated, NSA-enabled dragnet of the couple’s web history. It turns out either Catalano or her husband were conducting these searches from a work computer. And that employer, “a Bay Shore based computer company,” called the police on their former employee...

Actually TechCrunch is being kind (or something) -- the Suffolk County Police bulletin they worked from described his search terms as "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks."


The correction to the atlantic article linked above points out that the feds were never at her house, and the employer involvement spoils the surveillance angle, so it doesn't appear to be relevant to this story at all.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even so, it still demonstrates the extent to which our security obsession is turning us into one of those scary countries that engages its police forces and citizenry to remain constantly vigilant against the possible threat their own friends and neighbors represent, where innocent people get surprise visits from heavily armed authorities on the basis of vague suspicions, whispers, and innuendo, undermining social cohesion and trust, like we're some Soviet-ERA Eastern Bloc country.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:39 AM on August 2, 2013


evil otto: " All the terrorists who want to attack Oakland."

You mean Oakland, the fifth busiest port in the United States?

Note, I think the "Domain Awareness Center" is a terrible idea. But that's a separate question from "are there things that people of ill will would consider worth attacking in Oakland?"
posted by Lexica at 9:14 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Domain Awareness Center entry on OaklandWiki.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:47 AM on August 6, 2013


(That's the second link in the FPP.)
posted by brundlefly at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2013


Yeah, flagged it as a double comment.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:30 PM on August 6, 2013


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