If there are ever topics that are quick to cause arguments within the political arena, one of the major topics always includes the scope of the government. When it comes to government control there is a broad spectrum of belief. On one extreme, some people think that the government should control everything and that people should not be allowed to make many of their own decisions. On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that the government should have no say whatsoever in people’s lives. The vast majority of people tend to fall somewhere in the middle between these two dichotomous ideals.
City officials in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a small suburb north of Phoenix, have sparked this debate recently. The city began installing several cacti at intersections throughout the town. Normally desert plants would not be anything to be alarmed about, however these plants are artificial cacti that are designed to conceal specialized cameras, according to a story by Yahoo News.
One of the things that the residents have been most upset about is the apparent lack of transparency by the city government, according to AZ Family. City officials began installing the cameras without notifying the public of their purpose and refused requests to provide information when asked about the cameras. After several attempts to get an answer the local news agency learned that these cameras are license plate readers and that they were being housed inside of the cacti purely for aesthetic reasons. The city stated they were refusing to comment because they wanted to be able to present all of the facts at once.
Whether or not the city made the wisest choice in not being fully transparent with this plan it has many citizens in the area concerned. Some of the residents have stated that these cameras, which are designed to read license plates and check them against a database of flagged plates for stolen cars, represent an invasion of privacy. Some of the opponents of the cameras also have concerns about what will happen to the data that is being stored by the police.
Supporters of the cameras are quick to point out several things to consider. First, these cameras are already in use in police vehicles, so there’s not much difference between police cars running your plates and a stationary camera doing it. Second, all of your personal information is already on file with the DMV, which fully cooperates with the police department so they can get access to your information at any time they want whether they use a camera or call it in over the phone. Third, license plates are required to be visible and publicly displayed on the car, so it’s not an invasion of privacy to look at something that’s already supposed to be visible. Supporters also argue that there’s little difference between having an officer stand on the corner and record the plates and having a camera do it automatically other than response time.
Perhaps the most important questions are the ones that being ignored by the media. These types of issues are not well-defined by thoughts along invasion of privacy and government overreach. Instead, we need to look at these types of situations from a different lens altogether. Imagine a line on the ground. On one end of that line you have total freedom, total liberty, and also total vulnerability to being attacked. On the other end, you have complete protection and security, but in the process you also have no rights and no liberties. The question that we as a society needs to be asking isn’t whether or not this specific issue constitutes an invasion of privacy, but rather where on that line do we want to be? We cannot have both complete freedom and complete security, and to obtain one, we must trade the other. The questions that come up, which include the entire gamut of government surveillance and the Patriot Act, should be how many of our freedoms do we want to sacrifice in the name of security, and where is the furthest along that line that we are willing to travel? Once we have those questions answered, then we will be in a much better position as a society to determine whether or not specific measures like this one fit within that overall plan.