DHS helping public transit to record audio of private passenger conversations

Discussion in 'Civil Rights & Privacy' started by Mike, Dec 10, 2012.

  1. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    If anyone still has any doubts as to the intentions of the American Stasi aka Dept. of Homeland Security ...

    Wired / Threat Level: Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations

    Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet.

    The systems are being installed in San Francisco, Baltimore, and other cities with funding from the Department of Homeland Security in some cases, according to the Daily, which obtained copies of contracts, procurement requests, specs and other documents.

    The use of the equipment raises serious questions about eavesdropping without a warrant, particularly since recordings of passengers could be obtained and used by law enforcement agencies.
    It also raises questions about security, since the IP audio-video systems can be accessed remotely via a built-in web server (.pdf), and can be combined with GPS data to track the movement of buses and passengers throughout the city.

    According to the product pamphlet for the RoadRecorder 7000 system made by SafetyVision (.pdf), “Remote connectivity to the RoadRecorder 7000 NVR can be established via the Gigabit Ethernet port or the built-in 3G modem. A robust software ecosystem including LiveTrax vehicle tracking and video streaming service combined with SafetyNet central management system allows authorized users to check health status, create custom alerts, track vehicles, automate event downloads and much more.”

    The systems use cables or WiFi to pair audio conversations with camera images in order to produce synchronous recordings. Audio and video can be monitored in real-time, but are also stored onboard in blackbox-like devices, generally for 30 days, for later retrieval. Four to six cameras with mics are generally installed throughout a bus, including one near the driver and one on the exterior of the bus.
    Cities that have installed the systems or have taken steps to procure them include San Francisco, California; Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; and Athens, Georgia.

  2. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    The original article ...


    In San Francisco, for example, transit officials recently approved a $5.9 million contract to install a new audio-enabled surveillance system on 357 buses and trolley cars over four years, with an option for 613 more vehicles. The contract, signed in July, specifies both modern buses and historic trolley cars.

    A spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Paul Rose, declined to comment on the surveillance program. But procurement documents explain the agency’s rationale.

    “The purpose of this project is to replace the existing video surveillance systems in SFMTA’s fleet of revenue vehicles with a reliable and technologically advanced system to increase passenger safety and improve reliability and maintainability of the system,” officials wrote in contract documents.

    In San Francisco, the Department of Homeland Security is funding the entire cost with a grant. Elsewhere, the federal government is also providing some financial support ...

    And in Maryland, which has repeatedly arrested and prosecuted citizen for bogus wiretap violations ...

    In Maryland, where officials openly described audio surveillance as a tool of law enforcement, officials have enacted their system over significant resistance. The local transit agency took the first step in 2009, asking the state attorney general whether an audio recording system would violate wiretapping laws.

    For the next three years, the transit agency pursued legislation to authorize the audio surveillance. Civil liberties groups testified that the system would violate wiretapping laws and basic constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.

    “An audio device on an MTA vehicle will pick up all passenger conversations, whether uttered softly or shouted,” Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the state chapter of the ACLU, said in written testimony at a committee hearing in March.

    Though a legislative committee rejected the bill, the transit agency proceeded with its plan. In an advisory letter, the state attorney general’s office told the agency that signs warning passengers of the surveillance would help the system withstand a court challenge.
  3. DeafBlonde

    DeafBlonde Original Member

    Holy :trash:!! It is time to defund and dismantle the DHS. A good start would be to repeal the Un-Patriot Act!
    KrazyKat likes this.
  4. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    My take on it? Some jurisdictions are going to be completely fine with this. Some are going to view it as wiretapping (my view as well) and prohibit it. Then it'll go to the Supreme Court and we'll see from there. Depends on the make up of the Court at the time...
  5. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    Are there any zero-party consent states?

    Maryland seems to be a two-party consent state, given that they've been basing their bogus prosecutions on the audio that gets recorded along with video.

    I doubt that the warning signs will help in the end. A basic tenant of civil & constitutional rights in the U.S. is that government cannot compel you to give up one right so as to exercise another.

    I wonder if das Stasimuseum in Berlin has any roaming exhibits?
  6. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    I don't think so....

    I agree.
  7. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Seems like a simple exercise to hack the system and turn it off.
    KrazyKat likes this.
  8. FetePerfection

    FetePerfection Founding Member Coach

    Sadly, this isn't going to ruffle the feathers of the "millennial" generation therefore the wire-trapping will continue and even expand exponentially. I'm also afraid the generation(s) that understands and values the Constitution is a dying breed. Stories like this get me riled up but I feel like a lone wolf howling in the wind...and it ain't gonna get any better.
  9. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    I don't agree with that. I know quite a number of young san franciscans that won't take this lying down. I expect a rather large pushback on this one.
  10. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    Where would the SCOTUS ruling on no expectation of privacy fall in a case like this? I realize that some states have single party/all parties/zero party laws based on many differing criteria, but I am pretty certain they will find ways to skirt that, if there aren't already precedents in place. If you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the public realm when it comes to photography or video (which in many cases has audio attached to it), why would this be any different? Many locations may simply use a "security" clause indicating that these systems are simply put in place to help curb any problematic behavior and assist with prosecuting anyone that performs illegal behavior on a bus owned by the municipality. (serious legal question, because you know these arguments will be forthcoming when the inevitable legal challenges pop into the system)

    MHO is that they will get nothing useable out of this with the off exception of some small time hoods or maybe some minor busts on thugs and such. I am uncertain what DHS will be able to glean from this type of monitoring, as the required sifting (through hours of talks about groceries and love lives and such) would be so labor intensive as to be an extremely low yield endeavor.
  11. Doober

    Doober Original Member

    DHS can't get recording systems at TSA checkpoints, yet there are systems sophisticated enough to pick up voices on city buses?

    Quite like TSA checkpoints, don't you think?

    I've never heard a great deal of chatter on a city bus unless from school kids.
    DeafBlonde likes this.
  12. DeafBlonde

    DeafBlonde Original Member

    ^ I feel the same way, Fete!
    But just think of the person who is unfortunate enought to be assigned to the duty of reviewing those endless hours of surveylance audio... How would you like to listen to hours and hours of boring conversations of commuters. I think the only thing they will hear are things such as:
    1. Office gossip
    2. Bragging about grandkids (yes, I'm guilty of that!)
    3. Bragging about sexual escapades
    4. Complaining about having to go to work at ___ o'clock in the morning
    5. One-sided phone conversations with the boss, relatives, and friends
    And all the while, this person will be pining for that one conversation that reveals the details of the latest domestic/international terroist plot or a major drug deal. How many of those conversations take place in that venue? :confused:Take a wild guess...
    I pity that person.:(
  13. FetePerfection

    FetePerfection Founding Member Coach

    You're so right. What a complete waste of resources.
    KrazyKat likes this.
  14. JoeBas

    JoeBas Original Member

    This likely wouldn't be used in a "dragnet" fashion, at least not without some kind of pre-processing (I.E. only have someone listen to the recordings that say keywords like "Bomb", "Turrist", "Occupy", etc.).

    Where it WOULD be used is to skirt all those pesky "warrant" restrictions. "What's that? Known corner-boy Thug Boy Roberts took the bus yesterday? Let's pull the tapes and see if he says anything about his supplier T-dog...".
  15. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    They are spying on people in public places looking for things to bust them on. This is nothing other than institutionalized fishing expeditions. We used to look on in disbelief when the Soviets did this to their people, but we now accept this as normal? It is amazing to me that you'll sell your birthright so cheaply, Rugape. So willing to turn our country into a huge prison just to increase your odds of winning the game of "gotcha".
    KrazyKat and FetePerfection like this.
  16. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    Terrorism? Nope. Fishing expeditions looking for drug dealers. Mark my words.
    Elizabeth Conley and Doober like this.
  17. DeafBlonde

    DeafBlonde Original Member

    I wouldn't be too sure about that. The gubment can get very creative when it comes to wasting money! :rolleyes:
  18. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    It really depends on how the Supreme Court views wiretapping. Recording conversations in public is wiretapping. Looking at the cases where citizens have recorded their police encounters can be instructive. The reasons given for allowing people to record police is more a government transparency thing rather than asking whether or not you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. In the case of citizens, we're private people riding on buses, not agents of the government, so there isn't any kind of transparency issue.

    Government may try to argue that security outweighs privacy. I think this argument will fail, mostly because of what others here have discussed. On the bus we're going to hear conversations about work, love lives, tv shows, etc. No one really expects to hear the minute discussions of terrorists plotting to blow up whatever. I'd argue there's no security benefit at all.

    As for precedents, if you mean at the lower court levels - yes, there may be some, but the Supreme Court can rule any way they want, and so those court cases would go out the window.

    Video recording is different. With this, it's true that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. I have issues with this - technology has allowed government to literally peer over your shoulder and read what you're reading - cameras have gotten that good. In the past, the only way government could have done this would be to have a law enforcement person sit very close to you and read over your shoulder. No one thinks that this would be okay - social norms, and all. But because of technology, you aren't aware you're being monitored at that level. Do I really have no expectation of privacy? But that's another discussion for another day.

    Video + conversation recording = wiretapping. If someone decided to bring a suit against the person doing this, they'd probably win. Not talking about the cop cases here.

  19. RB

    RB Founding Member

    So saying things like;

    gosh, that was a bomb.

    the comedian bomb right off the stage.

    it was so funny the audiene just blew up.

    my barbque bombed again.

    sounds good, think I will take a shot at it.

    .........please add to the collection.....
    Elizabeth Conley likes this.
  20. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    A reporter did this to Henry Kissinger in Helsinki 40 years ago.

    What's improved is miniaturization and automation.
  21. KrazyKat

    KrazyKat Original Member

    Nice to think so. The roll-out list of cities, all liberal: =We'll do anything for money to cover operating deficits, and our general mismanagement.
    Hopefully the technology fails too.

    By definition it is a dragnet, JoeBas, searched by keyword. As if all our cellphone calls weren't enough...EVIL DHS.
    Elizabeth Conley likes this.

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