The City Council of Oakland, California started 2021 by strengthening its prohibitions on community surveillance through an amendment to its municipal code. The amendment, passed unanimously, prohibits the city’s police department from using biometric and predictive policing technology. Both practices have raised concerns over invasion of privacy, racial bias, and the targeting of minority communities. This follows a recent trend of local governments adopting anti-surveillance legislation that ranges from regulation of surveillance technology to an outright ban.
Although other cities have passed ordinances regulating the use of surveillance and facial recognition technology, as Nathan Sheard of the Electronic Frontier Society points out, Oakland is “the first city to incorporate these prohibitions into a more comprehensive Community Control of Police Surveillance (CCOPS) framework.” The types of technology banned include those that can “identify a person based on ‘physiological, biological, or behavioral characteristics ascertained from a distance.’” Additionally, Sheard quoted the San Francisco Council on American-Islamic Relations to the effect that “[n]ot only are these methods intrusive and don’t work, they also have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities—leading to over-policing.”
Establishment media coverage of Oakland’s new policy has been sparse. Oakland’s Fox KTVU 2 reported on the City Council’s imposition of restrictions on police use of biometric and predictive technology, as did SFGate.com. When Oakland’s ban is covered by a major outlet it is often only mentioned in passing as part of a broader story about surveillance regulation. For examples, a January 27, 2021 article in ZDNet about the racist biases embedded in predictive policing algorithms mentions Oakland as one of several cities that have banned facial recognition for policing. Coverage that focuses strictly on Oakland’s approach, such as the article by Sheard from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is limited. Further, these articles usually come from other non-corporate media sources, like State Scoop.
Source: Nathan Sheard, “Oakland’s Progressive Fight to Protect Residents from Government Surveillance,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, January 20, 2021, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2021/01/oaklands-progressive-fight-protect-residents-government-surveillance.
Student Researcher: Analisa Chudzik (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)