Oakland got a shout-out from the American Civil Liberties Union’s California affiliates this week with the issuance of their report, “Under the Watchful Eye: The Proliferation of Video Surveillance Systems in California.”
The report finds that “(p)ublic video surveillance systems threaten privacy and, especially in combination with other technologies, have a real potential to radically change the relationship between the public and the government. Despite that risk, cities and agencies throughout California are increasingly deploying surveillance camera systems with little public debate or consideration of potential consequences. This is a serious mistake.”
As for Oakland, it says:
There is a Better Way: Oakland Rejects Video Surveilance Twice
While many California cities rush to roll out video surveillance programs, one city considered and rejected them—twice. The Oakland city council, in both 1997 and 1999, rejected proposals to spend between $500,000 and $1 million on a video surveillance system.
Council members fully evaluated both privacy concerns and evidence of the systems’ effectiveness. Council member Henry Chang, an immigrant from China, reflected on his decision to come to the United States, saying, “We came because we don’t want to be watched by Big Brother all the time.” Council member Nancy Nadel rejected the monetary tradeoffs, arguing
that “it made me feel physical pain — the idea that we would spend public dollars on cameras before spending money to fight illiteracy.”
Council member Ignacio De La Fuente cast the deciding vote, citing a lack of evidence that cameras are effective in reducing crime and concluding that the program was not “worth the risk of violating people’s privacy rights.”
Then-Mayor Jerry Brown concurred, saying that “reducing crime is something the community and police must work on together. Installing a few or a few dozen surveillance cameras will not make us safe. It should also not be forgotten that the intrusive powers of the state are growing with each passing decade.”
While the city has rejected a broad city-run camera system, it has allowed some public money to be used to fund cameras for businesses in public-private partnerships.