The Washington Post reports that Maryland trains and buses are wired for audio as well as video surveillance, but officials currently aren’t allowing audio surveillance. The good news is that Maryland’s acting transportation secretary is against audio surveillance. “The [transportation] secretary believes that matters of public privacy are the ultimate test of people’s trust in government,” said her spokesman, Jack Cahalan. “We have tabled the matter.”
The bad news is that the public didn’t know about the capability until a transit authority official asked (pdf) the state attorney general’s office if audio surveillance would be legal.
“Can MTA lawfully make audio recordings of conversations of passengers and employees on board public transit vehicles?” wrote MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld. And, is it necessary “to obtain the consent of passengers and employees before recording their conversations?”
The Post reports that the Maryland Transit Administration “operates buses, subways and commuter rail lines throughout the state, focusing heavily on Baltimore, but its MARC rail lines and commuter buses into Washington carry more than 10 million passengers a year.”
All of MTA’s buses and rail cars arrive from the manufacturer equipped with cameras that can record video and audio, said Jawauna Greene, an MTA spokeswoman. And the video cameras are on when a bus is in operation. “Some of our buses have as many as 10 cameras,” she said. “Some are in the front section of the bus, some are in the rear and some are outside. The inside ones all have audio capability, but we’ve never turned that on.”
The use of cameras is now routine on many of the country’s transit lines, and a number of cities have inaugurated audio recording as well, causing some consternation. In Grand Forks, N.D., riders threatened to sue because there were no signs indicating that they were being recorded. In Broward County, Fla., a passenger who was recorded singing “We’re in the money!” after her bus crashed was confronted with her reaction when she sought damages for an alleged injury.