…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.
San Francisco transit authorities recently approved a $5.9 million contract to install an audio surveillance system on 357 buses and vintage trolley cars, paid for in full with a grant from DHS. The contract includes the option to expand the equipment to an additional 600 vehicles.
Concord, New Hampshire also used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install its new video/audio surveillance system on buses, according to the Daily.
Transit officials say the systems will help improve the safety of passengers and drivers and resolve complaints from riders. But privacy and security expert Ashkan Soltani told the Daily that the audio could easily be coupled with facial recognition systems or audio recognition technology to identify passengers caught on the recordings.
In Eugene, Oregon, the Daily found, transit officials requested microphones that would be capable of “distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines” and also wanted at least five audio channels spread across each bus that would be “paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.”
In 2009, transit officials in Baltimore, Maryland, backed down briefly from plans to install microphones in buses in that city after civil liberties groups complained that the systems would violate wiretapping laws and constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure. Transit authorities then…