Cities installing shady surveillance on public transporation

Bus Surveillance

Next time you’re thinking about buying drugs while riding on public transportation stop for a minute and ask yourself, “What city am I in?” you might want to re-think your plan if the answer comes back as:

San Francisco, California

Traverse City, Michigan

Athens, Georgia

Hartford, Connecticut

Columbus, Ohio

Eugene, Oregon

Baltimore, Maryland

…then you might consider that your conversation is probably being monitored. Law enforcement officials are installing microphones in city buses (and on San Fran streetcars) and will sync the conversations they overhear with footage from the camera systems already onboard. The recorders they use will store data for up to 30 days. Police claim that the basically warrantless wiretapping will help them fight crime but, as you can probably imagine, privacy advocates are pissed.

The Daily reports:

Some transit officials say the systems merely provide a useful way to resolve complaints from passengers. “From my standpoint, the use of audio is a lifesaver for the drivers,” said Joel Gardner, executive director of Ozark Regional Transit in Arkansas. “We can review audio and negate these false accusations.”

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.”

Searching for audio surveillance gear, some transit officials make clear their desire for fly-on-the-wall powers. In Eugene, Ore., for example, transit officials demanded microphones capable of distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines. Requesting a minimum of five audio channels spread across each bus, they added, “each audio channel shall be paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.”

[Via The Daily & Wired]

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