Even public transportation isn’t safe from the prying ears of law-enforcement surveillance.
According to documents obtained by tablet-newspaper The Daily, government officials have been installing audio recording devices on public buses across the United States that are linked to video cameras already installed and long in use. And according to Wired, even further security concerns are raised because the bus surveillance systems can be accessed by GPS and WiFi.
In San Francisco alone, transit officials approved a $5.9 million contract to install the new audio technology on 357 buses — as well as the city’s famous trolley cars — over the next four years. The Department of Homeland Security is funding the entire refurbishing with a federal grant.
In Concord, N.C., officials used “part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install a combined audio and video surveillance system on public transit vehicles,” according to records uncovered by The Daily.
Other cities that have installed or taken steps to install the audio-video surveillance include Eugene, Ore.; Traverse City, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Md.; Hartford, Conn., and Athens, Ga.
The addition of audio to the surveillance systems has raised free-speech and search-and-seizure issues, particularly if law enforcement officials can access the services without search warrants.
“This is very shocking,” Anita Allen, a privacy law expert at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Daily. “It’s a little beyond what we’re accustomed to. The adding of the audio seems more sensitive.”
According to the documents The Daily uncovered, the officials in Eugene wanted each bus to have five channels with microphones capable of “distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers, and engines.”
According to The Daily, officials could send an “invisible police officer” to the “scene” of the bus to transcribe the conversations of every single passenger.
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