http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2013/10/09/guest-opinion-freedom-and-vigilance


Almanac

Viewpoint - October 9, 2013

Guest opinion: Freedom and vigilance

by Cherie Zaslawsky

Menlo Park recently purchased several surveillance cameras and roving license-plate readers. Let's try putting the argument regarding local surveillance into a larger perspective, rather than getting bogged down in definitions of privacy and the like.

Recall that Thomas Jefferson warned us that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. When a people keep watch over their government, their freedom is maintained. Conversely, when a government keeps watch over its people, tyranny isn't far behind, if not already in place. Ask anyone who lived in East Germany under the watchful eye of the Stasi, or in Soviet Russia.

Remember, too, that Benjamin Franklin warned us we should never give up essential freedoms for the hope of safety, as we'd end up with "neither liberty nor safety." Why? Consider: When we relinquish freedom, to whom do we relinquish it? To the state. And the more power the state has, the closer we are to dictatorship, totalitarianism and tyranny. The Constitution and Bill of Rights protect our rights. From whom? From the government. The founders had no illusions about the lust for power among the unscrupulous.

Imagine a see-saw with the peoples' freedom on one side, and governmental power on the other. When the peoples' freedom is highest, governmental power is lowest. Conversely, when governmental power is highest, the peoples' freedom virtually vanishes. Our founders wisely chose a balance-point, giving government only carefully defined, strictly limited powers, and bequeathing to "we the people" the liberty that allows us to pursue our lives, fortunes, and happiness without governmental interference.

Let's now reconsider the impact and implications of having surveillance video cameras on our city streets. These cameras, high atop their lookout posts, are as ominous for what they imply about the balance between our freedom and the power and control of government, as for the glaring potential for abuse resulting from such technology. For these cameras, among other things, are symbols of a dangerous shift in the public's relation to its government.

They imply that the people require the vigilance of their government, rather than the other way around. The argument for them is the argument of surrendering some facet of liberty for the promise of safety — the irony being that such sacrifices have historically resulted in the loss of both freedom and safety.

Today we are in danger of allowing advances in technology to blind us to perennial truths about power, politics, human nature, and the tendencies of governments. We've forgotten that most of the large-scale atrocities committed throughout history, including genocide, have been inflicted on innocent people by their own governments.

At present, in the context of the NSA scandal, abuses and targeting by the IRS, as well as governmental ability to virtually discard the Fourth Amendment and eavesdrop on our private conversations and emails, the sudden appearance of the all-seeing eye of the surveillance camera in our tranquil suburbs hardly appears innocuous. We ignore the encroachment on our freedoms, and the concomitant growth of the power of the state, only at our peril.

Concerned residents can voice their objections to local surveillance by emailing the Menlo Park City Council at city.council@menlopark.org and by attending City Council meetings and making their voices heard.

Cherie Zaslawsky lives in downtown Menlo Park.

Comments

Posted by Excellent post, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 8, 2013 at 7:19 pm

One of the best opinion pieces ever posted in the Almanac.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm

We have no expectation of privacy in public. NONE. It is well established through numerous legal decisions. If you're in public you have no expectation of privacy. It matters not if it is being recorded or not. You have no expectation of privacy in public. If you want to argue about the keeping of the recordings of these observations, as to how long, then we have something to discuss. If you want to argue that these observations can't be made then you need to take it up with the supreme court. You'll lose.


Posted by Menlo Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 9, 2013 at 12:31 am

I think the Menlo Voter above is confused about the expectation of privacy in public, which I agree, that if you are in the public arena, there is no privacy and none should be expected. But there is a huge difference between an individual who happens to be in public expecting or demanding privacy and one who is enjoying his/her freedom in the public square, then having the state or local government intrude intentionally with prying cameras on his going about daily chores or visiting with a friend. The guest writer does not refer to the "expectation of privacy" in her article, but is talking about the treatment of ordinary citizens by public agencies like ants or rats in a cage by placing strategic cameras to capture their every move. It is also about who has the authority to passively watch people and what the state will do with the information they gather. Very different situations and implications.


Posted by Confusion, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2013 at 9:09 am

NO, he's confusing the legality of it with the political correctness of it, and the ability of citizens to influence their government to stop doing things even though they might be legal.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 9, 2013 at 10:07 am

There is no confusion in Menlo Voter's position. In a democracy the law is what the citizens, through their elected representatives, declare it to be. If you do not like the laws on this issue, as quite accurately described by Menlo Voter, then proceed to attempt to change the law to better conform to your desires. But realize that to change the current laws on public surveillance would a low probability event.


Posted by Friday Luncher, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 9, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Applause for the Guest Opinion writer. She reminds us to keep an eye out on the Macro level, but don't forget the small stuff. If you don't agree with her on the specific example of the pole cameras, then at least remember her comments the next time some similar issue comes up (e.g., allowing the Google cameras to record you in your front yard, in your pajamas, picking up the neighbor's morning paper ). This is a paper to be reviewed again a year from now.


Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

The reason license cameras may be troubling is that it's another step that enables the government to monitor movement more comprehensively than was possible before. You drive through an intersection, someone sees your license plate, maybe even takes a picture of it - no big deal. This is different from wiring up a system of cameras feeding into a central system that can be used to compile the movements of any vehicle that passes by. I'm troubled less by the picture taking, than I am by the potential dragnet monitoring. Sure - catch the drug dealers and gang bangers - that's okay. But what if some government official has their own personal reasons for using the system to follow someone their unhappy with - not for public safety law enforcement? This is when it becomes like Big Brother. You can put laws in place to make such usage illegal, but the temptation remains. Be assured these abuses *will* happen somewhere where these systems are put in place. If we're going to have such systems in place for safety, there has to be a ton of safeguards in place that it won't be abused.


Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

Whoever controls a network of cameras with image recognition capabilities would have significantly more power than those who do not - namely, the rest of us. Any individual can take a picture of someone else in public space ... they may even hire a private eye to track someone else. But if they get a system where they can type in "Hmm, where has license plate ABC 123 been today, at what times?" - that's a whole new level of surveillance. Whatever current law says about expectation of privacy, it may not be sufficient to prevent abuse enabled by new technologies. It's not enough to say, "this is what the law has been, it can cover scenarios not previously imagined".


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm

" Whatever current law says about expectation of privacy, it may not be sufficient to prevent abuse enabled by new technologies."

In a democracy the law is what the citizens, through their elected representatives, declare it to be. If you do not like the laws on this issue, as quite accurately described by Menlo Voter, then proceed to attempt to change the law to better conform to your desires. But realize that to change the current laws on public surveillance would a low probability event.


Posted by We NEED big guvmint, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Let's make the guvmint more powerful! Too many sickos that vote the wrong way.

Guvmint needs to KNOW EVERYTHING!

They need better equipment!

1. Start with: "Ready, fire, aim: Ohio officials implement statewide face recognition program without a whiff of public debate

Two months ago, the state government in Ohio secretly implemented a face recognition program using the drivers' license database to check against mug shots and images of suspects, a local newspaper has learned. Using public records law to obtain documents from the state AG's office, the Cincinnati Enquirer found that"

2. Then add a little: "Virginia State Police Used License Plate Readers At Political Rallies, Built Huge Database

From 2010 until last spring, the Virginia State Police (VSP) maintained a massive database of license plates that allowed them to pinpoint the locations of millions of cars on particular dates and times. Even more disturbing, the agency used automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) to collect information about political activities of law-abiding people. The VSP recorded the license plates of vehicles attending (rallies of) vice presidential candidate SARAH PALIN. "

Yay!!! Pretty good so far!!!!

Now add this:

3: from The Guardian: "America's police are looking more and more like the military - - - A Defense Department program transfers military-grade weapons and vehicles to local law enforcement. "

Pretty soon, the police that track your facial ID, track your license plate at political rallies for the opposition, start driving around in this:

State troopers (heavy on the TROOP-pers)


Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

It's happening, sheeple. Wake up. It's probably already too late. We are no longer a democracy when they can track every move and then tell us electronic voting is safe.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Need:

we're not a democracy, we're constitutional republic. Be that as it may you sound like a paranoid whacko.


Posted by old timers, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 11, 2013 at 5:13 am

As far as I am concerned, and I have said this before, all the Council Persons should be recalled for approving this. This is without a doubt the worst Council Menlo Park has ever endured. The City needs a new Council, one that is willing to fire the old guard, including top City Planners, even the City's attorney, and City Manager, and get Menlo Park government back to endorsing what should be its number one priority ---

PROMOTING AND ENSURING THE BEST QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ITS RESIDENTS.

Some years ago, the City voters kicked off of Council, Mickie Winkler, Lee DuBoc and Jellins (who appropriately decided not to seek re-election, since he knew he was doomed to failure). They were removed because they pursued the policies that this present council is enacting. Time for the voters to rise up and quit subjecting themselves to this kind of government.

I urge Save Menlo, and other groups, to quit just trying to solve a problem like the terrible Specific Plan, and get to the root of these problems,

GET A NEW CITY COUNCIL.


Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

It may be difficult to have a license camera system declared unconstitutional.

I'm not so sure it would be difficult to get policies and practices in place that this particular license camera system does not get abused - or, at least, difficult to abuse. If the plan is simply "we'll make sure good people are responsible for this system" - ah, that's not good enough. This seems very similar to the whole NSA issue; the claim is they were collecting metadata (who was e-mail who), not the contents of the e-mail - but there's an awful lot you can tell about people from analyzing those patterns.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

"to get policies and practices in place that this particular license camera system does not get abused - or, at least, difficult to abuse."

It would be easy IF informed citizens get involved.


Posted by delusional wacko, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

One poster lists actual events happening in other states (Ohio, Virginia and the transfer of military grade weapons to police departments) and the other poster labels him/her " Be that as it may you sound like a paranoid whacko."

Who's got his head in the sand here? Interesting point in connecting the trend to electronic voting and data capture at political rallies.

Peter - "It would be easy IF informed citizens get involved."

Atherton cops with a history of invading privacy (checking records on ex-gf's, potential paramours, etc..) and you blame the citizenry?

First we are "a paranoid whacko", then Peter tells us it's our fault. Who's being delusional now?


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Informed citizens HAVE changed the Atherton Police Department leadership and culture.

Try getting involved - you may be surprised.


Posted by delusional wacko, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

"First we are "a paranoid whacko", then Peter tells us it's our fault. Who's being delusional now?"

Peter response is to shift, to tell us that APD is fixed due to his heroic informed citizenry, and no need to look at APD. Nothing to see here. Move along. Just trust us to take care of things.

And the massive amount of data to be collected? Nothing to see here. We'll manage it perfectly.

Until we don't.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Wacko - too bad you cannot read simply English and have to instead create fictional statements.
It really is OK to come out of the shadows Bd use your real name and express YOUR own opinions.


Posted by We NEED big guvmint, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

"simply English" ?

What are the fictional statements? Mine? About Virginia? Ohio? The militarization of police forces in America?

Or the Lindenwood chap? Are you saying APD never had problems with cops accessing information they shouldn't have?

What are the fictional statements? One notes you quickly run to you fallback when you have nothing - " Bd use your real name "

Please enlighten us. Without your not so subtle ad hominem shift to your little pet peeve about anonymity.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Fictional statement -"Peter response is to shift, to tell us that APD is fixed due to his heroic informed citizenry"

I never said that. Making up false statements like that destroys your credibility.

Keep titling at windmills instead of participating in constructive change.


Posted by delusional wacko, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm

1. Discussion of Ohio, Virginia, militarization and "Atherton cops with a history of invading privacy (checking records on ex-gf's, potential paramours, etc..) and you blame the citizenry?"

True.

2. "Informed citizens HAVE changed the Atherton Police Department leadership and culture."

Possibly. TBD. Not according to all (see various posts and the complaints)

3. "Peter response is to shift, to tell us that APD is fixed due to his heroic informed citizenry, and no need to look at APD. Nothing to see here. Move along. Just trust us to take care of things.

I stand by that. With a force as troubled as APD, with as many detractors (many whom want to disband and use the county,) vigilance is key.

4. Peter: "Fictional statement -"Peter response is to shift, to tell us that APD is fixed due to his heroic informed citizenry"

Peter: "I never said that"

Whaaaa???? See: "Informed citizens HAVE changed the Atherton Police Department leadership and culture."

Well, seeing the above, I'll go with Peter on "making up false statements like that destroys your credibility."

Why, yes, Peter, it does.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm

" "Informed citizens HAVE changed the Atherton Police Department leadership and culture." does NOT equal
"to tell us that APD is fixed due to HIS heroic informed citizenry".

Wacko needs to learn to read English.

"Not according to all (see various posts and the complaints)" I challenge Wacko to cite a single citizen complaint since Chief Flint took charge of the Atherton PD.

Or perhaps Wacko wants to just continue to talk about historical things like the Civil War, segregation etc.


Posted by We NEED big guvmint, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I'm still looking for "simply English".

The thread is about surveillance and collection of data. I showed examples in Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere. Some delusional wacko in Lindenwood used the local example in Atherton. Another in Lindenwood claims it is all fixed. I'm not an expert on Atherton like Peter, so I'll ask: Fixed permanently, with local LEOs never to abuse data and position again?

Peter is all-trusting in government. Hurrah for him. Some of us are not as trusting.

Or shall we follow Peter's deviations to segregation (!) and the Civil War?


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 1, 2013 at 10:59 am

Atherton PD posting:

"Posted on: November 1, 2013
Hit and Run Collision on the 100 Block of Park Lane

A white 2 door Mercedes Benz was seen speeding in the area of Park Lane during the time frame when this hit and run occurred. If anyone has information regarding the white 2 door Mercedes Benz, or lives in the area of Park Lane and has video surveillance, please call the Atherton Police Department @ (650) 688-6500."

*******
Of course there are those that argue that it should be illegal for the police department to use video surveillance - there's or other's.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 20, 2013 at 9:22 am

Here is an excellent overview of the issues involved with surveillance cameras and the data that they capture:

Web Link

"Technology is a tool: it is a process by which political and human desires are instantiated in the world. What is significant about that instantiation is that it must take a visible form. It may be a written, readable code, or a physical infrastructure in the landscape: servers in data centres, cameras on poles by the roadside, rusting signs on forecourt walls declaring the owner's intentions."