The following is an excerpt from Yasha Levine’s ongoing investigative project, Surveillance Valley, which you can help support on KickStarter .
Oakland, California: On February 18, 2014, several hundred privacy, labor, civil rights activists packed Oakland’s city hall.
It was a rowdy crowd, and there was a heavy police presence. The people were there to protest the construction of a citywide surveillance center that would turn a firehouse in downtown Oakland into a high-tech intelligence hub straight out of Mission Impossible — a federally funded project that linking up real time audio and video feeds from thousands of sensors across the city into one high-tech control hub, where analysts could pipe the data through face recognition software and enrich its intelligence with data coming in from local, state and federal government and law enforcement agencies.
Residents’ anger at the fusion surveillance center was intensified by a set of internal documents showing that city officials were more interested in using the surveillance center monitor political protests rather than fighting crime: keeping tabs on activists, monitoring non-violent political protests and tracking union organizing that might shut down the Port of Oakland. It was an incendiary find — especially in Oakland, a city with a large marginalized black population, a strong union presence and a long, ugly history of police brutality aimed at minority groups and political activists.
But buried deep in the thousands of pages of planning documents was another disturbing detail. Emails that showed Google — the largest and most powerful corporation in Silicon Valley — was among several other defense contractors vying for a piece of Oakland’s $11 million surveillance contract.
What was Google doing there? What could a company known for superior search and cute doodles offer a controversial surveillance center?
Turns out, a lot.