It’s a common adage in the tech world: “privacy is hard.”
On the one hand, a city like Oakland wants to have enough surveillance that it can mitigate crimes like the recent tragic killings at local public transit stations. On the other hand, Oaklanders—as they have for decades—are concerned about the real possibility of the government overreaching.
So, when it comes to surveillance technology, how much is the right amount?
“I think the right amount is the amount that’s publicly vetted,” said Raymundo Jacquez III. He is a lawyer and a sitting member of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, believed to be the nation’s only municipal-level entity that has tasked itself with being a meaningful check on police tech.
“The Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission is designed to really evaluate any type of technology that would be used to surveil the public,” he continued.
He explained that local law enforcement can no longer acquire spy gear without telling anyone: “There’s an affirmative obligation on the police department to come to us with new technology.”
In addition to serving on the PAC, representing District 5, Jacquez is also the Youth Law Academy program director at the Centro Legal de la Raza, an immigrant-focused law clinic based in Fruitvale, a largely Latino neighborhood in East Oakland.
Jacquez, who grew up in the East Bay, described his own family as being “politically minded,” noting that his uncles were part of a Chicano activist group known as the “Brown Berets.”
There were numerous instances that pushed Jacquez toward the law, particularly in 2013, just one year before he completed law school.
“When [NSA whistleblower Edward] Snowden happened, I saw someone blowing the whistle and saw things that really forced us to question who we were as a society,” he said.
“To the extent that the Snowden revelations came out and the fascist implications of where that would lead to, it made me want to do something about it. When the opportunity came to represent District 5, I raised my hand.”
Oakland’s privacy commission was created in the wake of the controversy that bubbled up here shortly after the Snowden revelations during the summer of 2013. Local privacy activists and other concerned citizens caught wind of the fact that the city had formally accepted federal grant money to build a “Domain Awareness Center” for the Port of Oakland (the nation’s fifth-largest port) and the city itself. That plan was eventually scaled back to exclude the city.
For years, American cities have often accepted federal, state, or regional grant money to obtain various surveillance equipment for their local law enforcement agencies. Lawmakers often don’t ask questions as to how and in what circumstances such gear will be used, and neither do they typically evaluate after the fact whether those tools have been effective in reducing crime.
The PAC is now trying to put the brakes on that process, at least in Oakland.
For example, Oakland, like many cities, uses stingrays, also known as cell-site simulators. These devices, which spoof cell towers, can be used to locate particular cell phones and, by extension, people.
“If you would deploy this box, could you identify people at a protest?” Jacquez pointed out. “That’s not what was intended, and so we created a policy that said you can’t do that.”
He applauded the Oakland Police Department for being “cooperative and respectful” in collaborating with the PAC to come up with policies that served the needs of law enforcement without being too draconian.
The next generation
Jacquez also emphasized much of his work with the Latino youth of Oakland. He pointed out that, while Latinos are a demographic majority in California, they comprise just a tiny fraction of attorneys in the Golden State.
“That discrepancy is very similar for Black and Native American population, and when you look at what they represent in power differential and who has access to legislators and who has access to legislation–I see it as a human rights issue,” he said.
Jacquez wants the next generation of Oakland lawyers to be fluent in the numerous legal frameworks that have had a lasting impact on the region and the state, ranging from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Japanese internment camps, to organized labor icon Dolores Huerta getting beat up by San Francisco police at a protest in 1988.
“A lot of this stuff is new to them,” he said. “Our students’ lack of knowledge—it is not by accident. It is by design… When you look at how this society approaches dissent, how this government has approached dissent, these are the kinds of things that help motivate them so that they can be part of that change.”
Yes! There is a transcript of this video! Read it here.
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