by Michael Kelley
The U.S. government is quietly installing sophisticated audio surveillance systems on public buses across the country to listen to conversations of passengers, Michael Brick of The Daily reports.
“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,” Brick writes.
The initiative raises questions about privacy in public as it opens the door for transit officials and law enforcement agencies to listen to conversations without search warrants or court supervision.
“This is very shocking,” privacy law expert Anita Allen told The Daily. “It’s a little beyond what we’re accustomed to. The adding of the audio seems more sensitive.”
Even in light of emerging surveillance technologies such as speech and facial recognition being installed by the FBI, the biometrics analysis of TrapWire, the electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and GPS location data that the government considers fair game, this certainly seems to raise the bar.
Documents obtained by The Daily reveal that the technology is in the process of being implemented in Eugene, Ore.; San Francisco; Athens, Ga.; Baltimore; Traverse City, Mich.; Hartford, Conn.; and Columbus, Ohio.
In San Francisco the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided a grant that covers a $5.9 million contract to install the surveillance system on 357 buses and trolley cars over four years, with an option for 613 more vehicles.
“This technology is sadly indicative of a trend in increased surveillance by commercial and law enforcement entities, under the guise of improved safety,” an independent security consultant who reviewed the specs of the audio surveillance system told The Daily.