Buses Now Recording Your Conversations

First the car companies conspired to replace your trams with buses. Now the transit authorities are turning them into surveillance boxes on wheels. As an adjunct to the existing video systems, they’re putting in microphones — some with five or more channels of audio from microphones throughout the bus, to ensure a clear recording of /everything/ that gets said.

Who cares? It’s not like anyone’s going to plan a terrorist attack while riding the bus, except perhaps in jest after it showed up twenty minutes behind schedule for the fourth time.

Remember voice recognition technology? That bit of software that could scan every phone call and identify who’s speaking? Well, figure the people that ride buses are people that aren’t so easy to track by normal means. They aren’t driving, so license plate scanners won’t get them. They may be poor or out of work, so they don’t yap on their phones as much as everyone else. And they may be privacy conscious enough to know the benefits of public transport and therefore wearing hats — so neither Facebook nor the cameras will grab ’em. Enter the microphones.

As a side benefit, now that the watchers know who’s talking, they can now not just archive every word you’ve said on the bus, but if you were traveling with someone, map everyone you’ve ever talked with. Say you start becoming influential in the next Occupy camp… three keystrokes and they’ve got you under surveillance going back in time.

I suspect the subway’s noise is a lot harder to cancel, but for privacy it’s hard to beat a bike. Just check it for trackers every once in a while…


“Government officials are quietly installing sophisticated audio surveillance systems on public buses across the country to eavesdrop on passengers, according to documents obtained by The Daily. […]

“Given the resolution claims, it would be trivial to couple this system to something like facial or auditory recognition systems to allow identification of travelers,” said Ashkan Soltani, an independent security consultant asked by The Daily to review the specs of an audio surveillance system marketed to transit agencies. “This technology is sadly indicative of a trend in increased surveillance by commercial and law enforcement entities, under the guise of improved safety.”

Searching for audio surveillance gear, some transit officials make clear their desire for fly-on-the-wall powers. In Eugene, Ore., for example, transit officials demanded microphones capable of distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines. Requesting a minimum of five audio channels spread across each bus, they added, “each audio channel shall be paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.””


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