MTA buses can record pictures & sound

BALTIMORE - Those who respond to reports of violence on public buses have a new investigative tool---actually 10 of them on every bus.

Four cameras outside and six inside that will record your every move and your every word.

They've always had surveillance video, but audio was always off-limits.

That is, until now, and the American Civil Liberties Union says the MTA has gone too far.

"It shouldn't be a condition of riding a public bus in Maryland or anywhere else that you give up your right and ability to have a private conversation," said ACLU Attorney David Rocah.

The MTA says its passengers' safety is the top priority, and last month's assault on a woman by two thugs on the North Avenue line illustrates the need for sound to go with surveillance pictures.

"She's alleging that the case somehow may have been a hate crime," said MTA
Spokesman Terry Owens, "We've got video of the incident, but we don't have audio.  That would help make the case as we try to find the two young men who are involved in that attack."

Acting on a ruling from the Maryland Attorney General's Office that the practice is lawful, training is underway for drivers, and this week the first 10 buses equipped with the cameras hit the road with more than 300 others or about half of the fleet to follow in the months to come.

The ACLU says the MTA could have avoided an expected challenge if it had only limited the use of audio recordings.

"The technology certainly exists to have the cameras' audio turned on only when there's some public safety incident that would warrant it," said Rocah.

But whether it's an assault on a bus, a crash with another vehicle or just a rude driver or passenger, the MTA says it needs to listen to what happens leading up to an event to get the whole picture.

*The MTA says the recordings will only be kept for 30 days, and no one will monitor every conversation.

Critics counter that once the conversations reach a database, government cannot be trusted to keep from using them as it chooses.

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