Surveillance Systems on Public Buses
The Daily Caller
The era of private conversations on city buses -- and even on San Francisco’s iconic streetcars -- may be coming to an end.
Government officials are quietly installing sophisticated audio surveillance systems on public buses across the country to eavesdrop on passengers, according to documents obtained by The Daily. Plans to implement the technology are under way in cities from San Francisco to Hartford, CT, and Eugene, OR, to Columbus, OH.
Linked to video cameras already in wide use, the microphones will offer a formidable new tool for security and law enforcement. With the new systems, experts say, transit officials can effectively send an invisible police officer to transcribe the individual conversations of every passenger riding on a public bus.
But the deployment of the technology on buses raises urgent questions about the boundaries of legally protected privacy in public spaces, experts say, as transit officials -- and perhaps law enforcement agencies given access to the systems -- seem positioned to monitor audio communications without search warrants or court supervision.
“This is very shocking,” said Anita Allen, a privacy law expert at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a little beyond what we’re accustomed to. The adding of the audio seems more sensitive.”
In San Francisco, for example, transit officials recently approved a $5.9 million contract to install a new audio-enabled surveillance system on 357 buses and trolley cars over four years, with an option for 613 more vehicles. The contract, signed in July, specifies both modern buses and historic trolley cars.
A spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Paul Rose, declined to comment on the surveillance program. But procurement documents explain the agency’s rationale.
“The purpose of this project is to replace the existing video surveillance systems in SFMTA’s fleet of revenue vehicles with a reliable and technologically advanced system to increase passenger safety and improve reliability and maintainability of the system,” officials wrote in contract documents.
In San Francisco, the Department of Homeland Security is funding the entire cost with a grant. Elsewhere, the federal government is also providing some financial support. Officials in Concord, NC, for example, used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install a combined audio and video surveillance system on public transit vehicles, records show.
The Lane Transit District in Eugene, OR.; the Bay Area Transportation Authority in Traverse City, MI; the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus; CT Transit in Hartford; and Athens Transit in Athens, GA, have also been pursuing similar systems, documents show. The Maryland Transit Administration, which serves Baltimore, announced a bus recording system last month. The agency started recording audio on 10 public buses, with plans to expand the system to 340 more. Each bus uses six cameras. A recorder stores 30 days of data, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Some transit officials say the systems merely provide a useful way to resolve complaints from passengers...But surveillance technology experts say the audio systems can easily be used for other purposes.
“Given the resolution claims, it would be trivial to couple this system to something like facial or auditory recognition systems to allow identification of travelers,” said Ashkan Soltani, an independent security consultant asked by The Daily to review the specs of an audio surveillance system marketed to transit agencies. “This technology is sadly indicative of a trend in increased surveillance by commercial and law enforcement entities, under the guise of improved safety.”
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 12/10/2012
Editor's Note: Interesting that it is the most "Progressive" cities that are employing this absolute violation of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy...The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
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