Five hundred bugged buses

Here in Vermont recently there has been a flurry of reports over privacy concerns with the free public Wi-Fi’s foot traffic tracking system at the Church Street Market Place installed almost a year ago. But that’s just pedestrian compared to the secretly bugged public buses in Maryland. Apparently the Maryland Transit Administration didn’t think twice of secretly recording conversations on 500 of its public buses starting at least three years ago.

busrecorde 2Here in Vermont, questions remain about the extent that Burlington’s city supplied free Wi-Fi  utilizes monitoring capabilities above and beyond the impressive shopper foot traffic tracking system. VtDigger and VPR news both had good pieces exploring the privacy issue.

Unfortunately Vermont Edition didn’t ask Burlington Mayor Weinberger about it when they had him on the program a day or two later. Maybe there will be follow-up next time allows.The only sure way around tracking at the Church Street Market Place is not carrying a cell phone or other device at all to solve privacy worries in Burlington.

But on public buses in Maryland you better talk at a whisper or not at all if you want privacy.

Probably unbeknownst to many riders, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has been recording sound, as well as video, on 487 of its 771 buses, starting in 2013, in the name of safety and customer service. So are cities like Atlanta and San Francisco. In fact, the ability to record sight and sound comes standard on most new bus fleets being bought by city and state transit agencies.

The MTA says secretly recording conversations on buses is just another investigative tool and in addition they are able to secretly check the bus driver and monitor customer service, these are the added benefits. Nearly all new buses come equipped for audio surveillance but how many municipalities use them isn’t often reported.

Apollo Video Technology manufacturer of the listening devices defends the eavesdropping: Chief Operating Officer April Johnson, as a way to check the quality of driver and customer service. And, they insist, the listening devices aren’t overly intrusive or in violation of riders’ privacy.[added emphasis]

The standard rationale for this, heard almost every time a privacy question is raised goes like this: “…lawmakers look to strike a balance between personal privacy and giving police the tools they need to do their job”. If all of this- increases in cell phone tracking, police body cameras and license plate detectors recording and saving data- is all about striking a balance, it seems like someone’s got a thumb tipping the scale.

One thought on “Five hundred bugged buses

  1. Welcome to our future.

    Remember when we could find a payphone on almost any corner and even use it for free in an emergency? Remember when all of our documents were saved on paper and it took a real feat of burglary to steal their contents from our private hands? Remember when we could only spend our money if we wrote a check or went to the bank and mindfully withdrew it.

    If you do, you can also remember when we could arrive at the airport fifteen minutes before a flight, race to the gate with a boarding pass issued by a live person who would phone over to the gate to ask them to hold the door for you…and they would.

    There is a price to pay for every forward step. Haven’t we always know we’d end up living out “Brave New World?”

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