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Stories about privacy have a depressing tendency to be about its loss, and the increasing threats to it in the future. Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking about how to protect it, to prevent the loss and head off the threats. That’s easier said than done, since the latter come from many quarters, and take many forms. But even if it is not possible to draw up a complete and definitive approach to defending privacy, it is worthwhile looking at what has worked in the past in order to bear it in mind for future battles.
One episode in the annals of privacy has been taking place in Oakland, California. Back in 2013, Oakland residents discovered that the City of Oakland City Council was intending to approve a second phase of a port security monitoring system. This entailed extending Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center (DAC) into a city-wide surveillance apparatus that would have combined feeds from cameras, microphones, and other electronic monitoring assets throughout the city – see DAC Technical Requirements slide above for details.
An Ars Technica story from the time has a vivid report on a tumultuous city council meeting where the Oakland City Council unanimously accepted a $2 million federal grant to create the extended DAC. The council agreed to add some rudimentary privacy protections to the scheme, but many local activists felt these were inadequate. This led to the creation of the Oakland Privacy group, whose efforts prevented the city-wide rollout of the DAC, and brought about the creation of a city privacy advisory commission, which has continued to play a very active role in defending privacy in the area.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has