The city of Oakland is taking two popular buzzwords—“Big Data” and “surveillance state”—and combining them into a new program to aid in law enforcement.
Joining similar police initiatives in Massachusetts, Texas and New York City, the Oakland Police Department is re-appropriating US$7 million in federal grants initially purposed for preventing terror attacks, and using it to construct a new surveillance center. Scheduled to open next summer, the project, formerly referred to as Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center, will electronically gather and analyze data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, displaying selected info on a bank of giant monitors.
(More on the big spending over Big Data: Big Data spending to reach $114 billion in 2018)
Data mining for law enforcement in particular has the capacity to give Oakland police much more comprehensive evidence with which to investigate cases, and to aid in real-time emergency response. The center will tap into reports of 911 calls, along with collecting feeds from port and traffic cameras, license plate readers, and gunshot sensors. The center will also monitor social media posts to look for evidence of criminal activities, and track commuters’ electronic toll payments. Future plans include adding surveillance in schools, on the commuter rail system and on state highways.
While Big Data gathering and analysis could be an enormous benefit to Oakland’s government, concerns are also arising about tracking and recording everyday citizens.
Libby Schaaf, an Oakland City Council member, told The New York Times that due to the city’s high crime rate, “It’s our responsibility to take advantage of new tools that become available.” She added that the center would be able to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”
Government technical services and enterprise IT company Leidos Holdings is being contracted by the city to build the Big Data-powered surveillance center. Considering Microsoft built the technology for the NYPD’s initiative, this project is another example of the new business opportunities for Big Data tool manufacturers.