Oakland City Council Says Residents Are Now Protected by the 'Strongest' Surveillance Oversight Law 'In The Country'

From [HERE] After years of deploying surveillance tech with minimal oversight and zero public notice (sometimes even city lawmakers were cut out of the loop), law enforcement agencies are being reined in by their overseers. Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica reports Oakland, CA city governance is putting residents first for a change, joining a few other California cities in efforts to reduce surveillance tech abuse and increase public accountability.

Late Tuesday evening, the Oakland City Council formally approved a new city ordinance that imposes community control over the use of surveillance technology in the city.

Oakland is now one of a number of California cities, including Berkeley and Davis, that mandates a formal annual report that details "how the surveillance technology was used," among other requirements.

The city itself caught some heat for a 2013 plan to turn the city into London, UK  (West Coast, USA Edition) [ see above video on surveillance in London]. The proposed "Domain Awareness Center" would have provided law enforcement with access to a network of more than 1,000 cameras. To make matter worse, the proposed system would have been cobbled together by SAIC, a government contractor with a sordid history of fraud, bribery, and shoddy workmanship. SAIC was behind a $600 million custom computer system ordered by the FBI. When it finally arrived, late and overbudget, it was so worthless the agency immediately scrapped the system and hired a different contractor.

The backlash from this attempt to place most of the city under round-the-clock surveillance has prompted a change of heart in city leadership. The new ordinance [PDF] opens with several declarations, including this one, which indicates city governance recognizes the inherent downside of pervasive surveillance.

WHEREAS, the City Council finds that, while the use of surveillance technology may threaten the privacy of all citizens, throughout history, surveillance efforts have been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation or political perspective…

Following the declarations are the specifics. Lots of them. Reporting requirements are robust and thorough, demanding law enforcement agencies provide info on data gathered, who data was shared with, what was disclosed, how surveillance tech is being deployed, and where in the city these devices and methods have been put to use. The ordinance also requires periodic audits to check for violations, unauthorized access, and demands law enforcement agencies assess the impact these devices are having (if any) on reducing crime.

The new ordinance -- written with the ACLU's assistance -- passed unanimously. It has the support of city leaders and city residents. How much support it has in the law enforcement community remains to be seen.