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 firstname.lastname@example.org and by attending City Council meetings and making their voices heard.