Oakland California Fights Police for Surveillance Control

Law enforcement all around the United States has taken to using more advanced spy equipment in the last few years. There was a big hoopla specifically over the Stingrays that were used for broad surveillance operations. These and other video surveillance tools have been used by police to spy on people without first obtaining the proper warrants. The Oakland, California, local government is not going to put up with it any longer, and has drafted legislation that would take away the powers of unwarranted surveillance. The people of Oakland support it, and this move is expected to create a wave that may wash over the country to the east coast.

Butt Out!

In essence, the city of Oakland is telling the government that they can’t just muscle their way into their territory. Police have been conducting their broad surveillance in the dangerous port area of the city for some time, but have recently made efforts to spread out into the city proper. Surveillance of the port area may have been tolerated as a necessary evil since police insist that it does wonders to help control crime. Oakland is a city of 400,000 that carries the weight of over 8,000 violent crimes every year. But to have the entire city under Orwellian scrutiny is beyond what the people are willing to bear.

It was once again the most privacy-conscious section of the population that began the movement against surveillance expansion. Their campaign explained the dangers of using tools like Stingrays and license-plate readers and the way that law enforcement has been manipulating the thousands of street and CCTV cameras positioned all around the city to spy on the public. Oakland residents rallied behind the creation of a new law that would forcibly regulate how the police can buy and use these types of spy technologies, including the ShotSpotter system that detects and locates gunshots. If the legislation pushes through, the city will be able to stand up against the efforts of the federal government to intrude on their territory. It is also seen as the catalyst for other local governments to fight against intrusion into municipal and state areas of authority.

Security Versus Privacy

We often hear the words security and privacy spoken of in tandem. But police and the government have long argued that privacy must be sacrificed for the sake of security. This is their main case for pushing mass surveillance. Law enforcement would love to be able to conduct widespread and real time surveillance on everyone, everywhere because they claim that it would greatly help them to control crime. But this does not mean that it is the only way to prevent crime or catch criminals. It is just the easiest way that they can think of. The sacrifice of privacy is therefore unwarranted and is rightly opposed very strongly by those who value it. Oakland is taking this stand and telling the government and police that they will just have to find another way to fight crime, one that does not trample the people’s rights.

One Oakland resident, Brian Hofer, who was a civil rights lawyer, recognizes how the police have used the crime rate to rationalize the need for greater surveillance. A member of the city’s temporary advisory committee that is serving on this issue of unwarranted surveillance, he says that the city is working towards the establishment of a permanent committee that will be tasked with oversight on matters of surveillance. He is confident that this effort will result in better control over the purchase and use of previously unregulated spy tools. These tools have so far been bought with federal money and their use has therefore not been coursed through local or municipal governments. The aim is to ensure that local police will have to coordinate with local government before they can obtain and set up their surveillance systems. Law enforcement will have to be transparent about their activities, which they have been able to avoid in the past. Hofer also says that they are working to create strong legislation that will give the people a way to lodge complaints and be duly compensated for any untoward surveillance imposed on them. Some cities already have this type of legal mechanism in place, but Oakland believes that the people should get more – the law should cover their legal costs and regulate all types of spy equipment used by the police.

The police of course cannot be trusted to give accurate reports to the city on all their surveillance activities. But having strong legislation is a step towards limiting their powers and also towards affording the people a way to fight back when their privacy is violated. The city and the public as well are here called upon to exercise extra diligence and vigilance to encourage full cooperation and transparency by local police.

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