Government officials, with funds through Homeland Security, are funding the installation of high quality audio and video surveillance devices in bus and other transit vehicles in major cities across the U.S., The Daily reports. These are not just systems to record and store audio and video in buses, but also to transmit the live surveillance images and sound to unknown locations, where Homeland Security can do whatever they wish with the files.

Installation of these eavesdropping security projects is currently underway in the cities below. But is it legal?

San Francisco, CA
Eugene, OR
Hartford, CN
Columbus, OH
Baltimore, MD
Traverse City, MI

In California, audio recording of a conversation is not allowed if people in the conversation have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Is that the case on a bus? When you’re on a bus speaking with the person sitting next to you, do you think that other people can hear you talking? Especially when you factor in the noise of the bus? I’m guessing most people would not think their conversations are being listened to, let alone being recorded and kept in perpetuity.

In San Francisco, the Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) refused to comment on the installations, but contract documents state the purpose. “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.”

Which is a rather diplomatic way of saying, “We want to record you on audio and video constantly without technological interruption,” sincerely, Homeland Security. (Homeland  paid $5.6 million for the system through a federal grant to SFMTA).

While these very sensitive systems may increase the capture and persecution of bad guys, adding to the safety for bus drivers, passengers, and the city in general, national security organizations have the same access to the audio and video files as local police and transit authorities. In some ways, Homeland security has better access because they are likely storing this audio and video forever, and they will have access to much better search, filtering, and identification software.

“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.”

What do you think about all this?