OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | PRIVACY | Oakland’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Ordinance is adding quite a bit of snowy static for future of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The City Council’s Public Safety Committee moved forward a recommendation to select a new vendor for the second phase of the controversial surveillance center late Tuesday night, but not before all four members raised serious questions whether the latest contractor may be ineligible due to its potential participation in nuclear weapons-related businesses.
“It appears the folks who are most qualified to do these things are companies that conflict with the values this community has set forth in procurement policies,” said Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who added, her position toward the DAC since last July has significantly changed. “I am more disturbed by the DAC than I was at the first hearing in 2013.”
Earlier in the committee meeting, Ahsan Baig, the director of the city’s Department of Information Technology, said the potential DAC contractor, Schneider Electric, Inc., self-reported no nuclear weapons-related activities during the procurement process. However, concerns by local media and privacy activists asserting otherwise led the city to request further information from the company, which it has not yet received. Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez said the vendor seeking the DAC contractor is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the larger Schneider Electric enterprise, which may work in nuclear weapons-related enterprises, but the smaller company seeking the contract in Oakland does not.
“If something is a wholly-owned subsidiary, that’s part of the company,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb. “That’s not for debate.” Kalb also admonished city staff for a passage in the proposed resolution allowing the administration to choose another vendor without council approval. “The provision of it not coming back to council is not going to happen,” Kalb said. “It’s kind of shocking the administration would even ask us for that again after we rejected that so many times.”
Councilmember Libby Schaaf also registered concern over the legality of the vendor’s proposal within the city’s nuclear weapons free zone law, approved by voters in 1992, and which also negated a similar contract from a different vendor late last year. “I continue to have questions about whether or not Schneider meets all of the applicable laws,” she said, and like the rest of the committee believes the issue before them Tuesday night was more appropriate for a discussion by the full council next week. Gallo, despite voicing strong support for the need of a citywide surveillance hub to fight crime in Oakland, noted the possibility the current vendor may not be complaint. He urged city staff to return a clear up or down determination on Schneider’s nuclear weapons activities.
As with other public meetings involving the DAC since last summer, dozens of speakers passionately urged against its presence in Oakland. However, the tone was more subdued and without the shouting and name-calling that has overshadowed other meetings. “There is a reason why all of the DAC contractors are also involved with nuclear weapons,” said Oakland privacy activist Mary Madden. “Mass surveillance is an injustice you subject upon people that you are at war with.” Others remain concerned repeated disclosures over the past year of secret government intrusion into personal privacy made public by Edward Snowden will also lead to abuses of the DAC’s surveillance capabilities.