Those private chats you think you’re having with other bus riders? Turns out, they may not be so private at all. In cities across the country, the government is installing sophisticated audio surveillance equipment on public transit to listen in on passengers.
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.
But the deployment of the technology on buses raises urgent questions about the boundaries of legally protected privacy in public spaces, experts say, as transit officials — and perhaps law enforcement agencies given access to the systems — seem positioned to monitor audio communications without search warrants or court supervision.
...Searching for audio surveillance gear, some transit officials make clear their desire for fly-on-the-wall powers. In Eugene, Ore., for example, transit officials demanded microphones capable of distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines. Requesting a minimum of five audio channels spread across each bus, they added, “each audio channel shall be paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.”
So the next time you think you’re having a private conversation on public transportation, remember this: Big Brother may be eavesdropping on you.