The surveillance society continues to grow unabated, as the city of Baltimore becomes the latest governmental entity to trample civil rights in the name of “public safety.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, city officials have now authorized the recording of private conversations on public buses “to investigate crimes, accidents and poor customer service.”
Marked with signs to alert passengers that open mics are picking up every word they say, the first 10 buses with the new surveillance equipment began operation towards the end of October. Eventually, officials say they will expand the program to 340 buses, or about half the fleet, by next summer.
The paper said the audio surveillance will be incorporated into the video surveillance systems already on board the buses (no plausible explanations on how an audio capability is supposed to enhance video surveillance, either).
“We want to make sure people feel safe, and this builds up our arsenal of tools to keep our patrons safe,” said Ralign Wells, the Maryland Transit Administration chief. “The audio completes the information package for investigators and responders.”
David Rocah, a staff attorney with the Maryland chapter of the ACLU, said he was “flabbergasted” by the plan, which he says is being implemented under the guise of a pilot program after a similar proposal was rejected by the state’s highest-ranking transportation official and the General Assembly three times in 2009.
“People don’t want or need to have their private conversations recorded by MTA as a condition of riding a bus,” Rocah told the paper. “A significant number of people have no viable alternative to riding a bus, and they should not be forced to give up their privacy rights.”
MTA police dispatchers say they receive anywhere from 45 to 100 calls daily from bus drivers reporting everything from unruly passengers to criminal activity. Capt. Burna McCollum, commander of the MTA police technical services division, said that while video is a very useful tool in helping to solve crimes, the audio is needed because, essentially, he wants to take away a witnesses’ choice not to get involved.