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Microphones on Buses Raise Surveillance, Security Concerns

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on December 13, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As if there wasn't enough government surveillance of citizens, now some cities are installing microphones on public buses.

Using funds from the Department of Homeland Security, cities including San Francisco and Baltimore are updating bus surveillance systems with audio-recording capabilities. That means passengers' conversations can be surreptitiously taped and saved for later use.

Bus companies are in favor of the move, but civil liberties groups beg to differ. They're worried about how all this surveillance could be used against us.

Public transportation like buses now routinely have some kind of closed-circuit camera that records the actions of passengers. But this audio system raises a new issue.

For one thing, the audio surveillance isn't on a closed circuit. The audio and video systems are remotely accessed via a web server, reports Wired. That makes them potentially vulnerable to hackers.

But the bigger issue is the amount of information government officials can now collect.

Because buses are also linked to a GPS system, that makes it possible to track private citizens as they travel across a city. Opponents argue that collecting this much information would violate wiretapping laws.

Bus companies contend that the system isn't for surveillance beyond the confines of a bus. The system will keep passengers safer from crime and help resolve onboard disputes.

Still, those good intentions won't necessarily stop the information from being seized by the federal government to investigate individuals.

In an effort to head off at least a few legal challenges, the city of Baltimore decided to put up signs warning passengers about the surveillance and move forward with the installation.

Still, it's unclear whether that will help. While those kinds of warnings work for private spaces, public transportation is a bit different. If it unfairly discourages certain groups from taking the bus, it might run into other legal issues as well.

Despite the legal concerns, it looks like cities are still steering toward installing these new systems, reports The Verge. So be careful what you say on the bus.

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