Cities Putting Audio Surveillance On Buses

Several cities are spending Homeland Security grant money on surveillance capabilities around the city, particularly on public transportation buses. In San Francisco, officials are using $5.9 million of grant money to upgrade their video surveillance systems to include audio capabilities as well. In the next 4 years in San Francisco, new audio/video surveillance systems will be implemented in 357 total public vehicles including trolley cars and potentially 613 more vehicles. The Daily reported:

“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, Conn., and Eugene, Ore., to Columbus, Ohio. 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.”

 As usual, official documents state that these new and improved surveillance systems are for passengers’ safety. This is inconsistent with what law enforcement have stated about people recording police officers. They claim the reason they are not in favor of civilians recording police encounters is that it violates both the police officer’s and the civilian’s right to privacy. So, banning the audio/video recording of police officers actually protects civilians as well as officers, they say. They also claim that using recording devices in such encounters make it more likely for civilians to lie to law enforcement. But when law enforcement impose constant audio and video surveillance on all passengers of public transportation, that’s to “protect” us.

If we’re on public property or travelling on public transportation, soon everything we say and do will be recorded. It reminds me of the Miranda warning:  “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say or do will be used against you in a court of law.” And that’s just what they will do if you choose not to remain silent in public. Anything we say or do will be used against us. This is the society that our kids and grandkids will grow up in.

When will they require that our own cars be equipped with surveillance systems that will be routed to law enforcement agencies? Actually, they’ve already started. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working on making it mandatory for automakers to install black boxes or event data recorders (EDR) in all new cars and light trucks. ABC News reported:

 “The data recorders track a number of items, including vehicle speed, whether a driver tried to step on the brakes before a crash, information about engine throttle, air bag readiness before a crash, and whether seat belts were buckled. The NHTSA believes the data the black boxes could collect will save lives in the future by providing a broader picture of why and how crashes occur.”

 These might prove to be useful as they have been in planes and other aircraft. But the trend toward total surveillance indicates that eventually, these event data recorders will be able to record more than just events, but also private conversations. Expect that also to be sold to the public in the name of safety.