Oakland looks into more surveillance, drones to fight local crime

Source: Aarti Shahani, Al Jazeera America, December 30, 2013

Despite concerns about government snooping and tech incompetence, the progressive city is considering spy centers. … …Council members and citizens butted heads over the Domain Awareness Center— a surveillance hub that elected officials said would use thousands of live feeds from cameras, gunshot detectors and license-plate readers to protect the public. Critics worried it would violate rights….At the City Council hearing, protesters calling themselves “Seymour Butts” and “Edward Snowden” hinted at these reasons when they asked questions such as “Who pays if the project goes over budget?” and “What happens if the center is hacked?” The council members did not have answers. But they did have a grant deadline. If Oakland didn’t approve the project, it risked losing $2 million in federal money. Six of the seven members voted to move forward. … New York and other cities are working with companies such as IBM and Microsoft to use big data in policing. … It’s hard to turn down federal grants, but experts said the funding is not enough to cover the costs. Oakland has set an annual operating budget of $1.25 million for its surveillance center…. A 2012 investigation by the Oakland auditor indicated the city has a poor track record. The audit found that police spent at least $1.87 million on “never used or underused technology” and their purchases “have drawn down Oakland’s very limited financial resources without significant benefit to the citizens of Oakland.” … The city has not decided if the head of the surveillance center will be a public official or a private contractor. The contractor the city hired for the first phase of the project, Science Applications International Corp., paid New York City $500 milion in a settlement over contract fraud and overcharged Oakland for services. …