Report: DHS funding program to eavesdrop on bus ride conversations

Josh Peterson Contributor
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The federal government is funding upgrades to public-transit surveillance systems, augmenting existing video surveillance capabilities on city buses across the U.S. with audio-recording equipment.

The effort is part of a high-tech expansion of law enforcement capabilities, further eroding expectations of privacy.

“In San Francisco, the Department of Homeland Security is funding the entire cost with a grant,” The Daily reported Monday, stating that the federal government is providing some assistance to other cities.

“Officials in Concord, N.C., 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,” reported The Daily.

Similar capabilities are in place across the country, including Durham, North Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland. Many city buses already have video cameras in case of a public disturbance or crime.

“Plans to implement the technology are under way in cities from San Francisco to Hartford, Conn., and Eugene, Ore., to Columbus, Ohio,” reported The Daily.

Not everyone is happy about the technology. Privacy advocates and surveillance experts view the audio equipment as part of an effort to further expand the modern surveillance state under the guise of public safety.

In Maryland, for example, the Maryland Transit Administration moved forward with plans to add audio surveillance systems to Baltimore city buses, in spite of opposition from the state legislature and civil liberties groups.

Technology companies like Comtrol are recommending and building surveillance systems for public safety, taking cues from foreign public transportation systems.

“As public transportation is becoming more popular in North America, following successful models used in foreign transportation systems can help guide our decisions and processes concerning public safety initiatives,” said Comtrol’s page on Transportation and Bus Surveillance: Mobile Security.

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