Renee Domingo, director of emergency services for Oakland, California, stands in front of the main monitoring screen at the Domain Awareness Center. Credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland, California’s City Council on Tuesday approved the formation of the Permanent Privacy Advisory Committee to develop policies for surveillance equipment use by city agencies. The committee will build on the work of a temporary predecessor that last year developed regulations for the curtailed Domain Awareness Center and a helicopter-mounted infrared camera purchased by the Oakland Police Department.

This development marked the end of a cycle of events touched off in July 2013 by The Center for Investigative Reporting’s revelation that a federally funded surveillance center for the Port of Oakland had been expanded to cover the entire city of Oakland and potentially would incorporate data feeds including license-plate readers, gunshot detection centers and video camera feeds from city streets, schools and the Oakland Coliseum. Months of protest and contentious council hearings made national headlines, finally resulting in the council’s March 2014 decision to limit the Domain Awareness Center’s scope to the Port of Oakland.

Only one other city in the United States – Seattle – has a standing government body devoted to issues of privacy and surveillance. Established in November 2014, the committee was the result of pushback from residents against surveillance technology purchases and deployments by law enforcement agencies without public notice.

The first responsibility of the new Oakland committee will be crafting and overseeing a citywide policy regulating the acquisition and use of surveillance technology. It also will advise the City Council on data retention, use and protection policies, and provide policy advice to the council on the potential privacy implications of any new technology acquisition.

The committee will comprise nine members appointed by the City Council and the mayor, including at least one civil rights attorney, one current or former law enforcement officer who has worked with surveillance technology, one auditor and one specialist in hardware or software encryption security.

Ali Winston

Ali Winston is a freelance reporter, covering surveillance, privacy and criminal justice. His writing has won awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, the New York City Community Media Alliance, the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Originally from New York, he is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley.