Several cities are spending Homeland Security grant money on surveillance capabilities around the city, particularly on public transportation buses. In San Francisco, officials are using $5.9 million of grant money to upgrade their video surveillance systems to include audio capabilities as well. In the next 4 years in San Francisco, new audio/video surveillance systems will be implemented in 357 total public vehicles including trolley cars and potentially 613 more vehicles. The Daily reported:
“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. Plans to implement the technology are under way in cities from San Francisco to Hartford, Conn., and Eugene, Ore., to Columbus, Ohio. Linked to video cameras already in wide use, the microphones will offer a formidable new tool for security and law enforcement. With the new systems, experts say, transit officials can effectively send an invisible police officer to transcribe the individual conversations of every passenger riding on a public bus.”
As usual, official documents state that these new and improved surveillance systems are for passengers’ safety. This is inconsistent with what law enforcement have stated about people recording police officers. They claim the reason they are not in favor of civilians recording police encounters is that it violates both the police officer’s and the civilian’s right to privacy. So, banning the audio/video recording of police officers actually protects civilians as well as officers, they say. They also claim that using recording devices in such encounters make it more likely for civilians to lie to law enforcement. But when law enforcement impose constant audio and video surveillance on all passengers of public transportation, that’s to “protect” us.