Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Compare cell phone plans using Wirefly's innovative plan comparison tool ×
Transportation Government Privacy

Maryland Public Buses Record Passengers' Conversations (washingtonpost.com) 137

mi writes: You may not have heard of it yet, but Maryland Transit Administration began recording passengers' conversations in 2012 — on its own initiative. Legislative efforts to put an end to the practice failed four times since then — but some State Senators keep trying "What [the MTA] is doing is a mass surveillance [...] I can make an argument to tape everybody, everywhere, everywhere they walk, everywhere they talk, and you can make the excuse for homeland security." If we had competing public transport companies, one could've switched to a privacy-respecting competitor. Alas, MTA holds a monopoly and legislation is the only recourse.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Maryland Public Buses Record Passengers' Conversations

Comments Filter:
  • FOIA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:02PM (#51629223)

    What happens if somebody comes along and says "I want those recordings please. Thank you."? Do they have to be censored? That sounds like fun. They really don't know what they are into.

    • Re:FOIA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:34PM (#51629497) Journal

      What this is, is nothing short of Bureaucratic tyranny.

      When I speak of tyranny, of an all powerful government, it doesn't always mean having a tyrant like Hitler hell bent on evil at the top. It is often more insideous than that, unaccounted, unfettered bureaucracy that is beholden to nobody. Because no single person is responsible, there is nobody to prosecute for the decisions that lead the the tyranny.

      And while this is going on, people are crying for more tyranny, in the name of "security" ... the state MUST protect itself from its own citizens!

      • This is what you get from blue states. Tyranny.
    • Re:FOIA (Score:4, Informative)

      by the_povinator ( 936048 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @04:15PM (#51631531) Homepage
      Everyone, please RTFA, this is blown out of all proportion. It's a recording device next to the operator's seat (so any conversation it records would not be that private, it would be hearable by the bus operator), and it is to be activated by the bus operator. It's not like each seat has a hidden microphone to record private conversations. Has anyone who posts on slashdot ridden on a bus? Do you know how much noise they make?
      • I read the article and it says the bill wants to restrict recording to the area by the driver. I don't see where it says that is already in effect today.
      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        They should put a sign on it so people can speak clearly into it. I'm sure a lot of people have things to say to them.

      • Actually if you read the article, you'd know that the PROPOSED bill would be to LIMIT the already-existing recording TO a device next to the driver's seat which he controls. And the reasons AGAINST it, other than security, are that it would cost a lot to MODIFY the existing installations to those specifications.
  • The new murder thriller by Steven king.
  • Above the Law? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by K. S. Van Horn ( 1355653 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:13PM (#51629307) Homepage
    What the MTA did / is doing is a crime under Maryland's wiretapping statute. Why have the responsible persons not been arrested and put on trial?
    • Silly commoner. Laws are for you, not the rich and powerful.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I've never thought of municipal transit authorities as being rich or powerful.

        • In comparison to their customers, yes.

          I really don't see why /. is getting all upset about the rights of a bunch of poors.
          Now if they tried pulling this kind of stunt on the Google shuttle buses, they'd rightfully riot in the streets.
        • That is where you'd be wrong. Petty tyrants are still tyrants. They wield their power just as much as the ones at the top. They have the full power of the Bureaucracy (Power and the wealth of the taxpayers) behind them, and you'd be a fool to take them on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      We have to be careful. We still want to keep our rights to film the cops.

      • by Aaden42 ( 198257 )

        Different thing entirely.

        People have inalienable rights (by virtue of being born) and enumerated rights (from the Constitution, though that document also lists some rights considered to be inalienable). The government has no rights and only the powers granted it by the Constitution.

        People have a right to privacy and a reasonable expectation for there to be limits on government surveillance, even in public. The government has no such right, and that includes individual agents of the government acting in t

        • The government has no rights and only the powers granted it by the Constitution.

          People in government control both the gold and the guns. Guess who gets to make the rules?

        • People have inalienable rights (by virtue of being born)

          Really? The evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

    • Re:Above the Law? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:42PM (#51629571) Homepage
      This is correct. Maryland is an all party consent state - all parties must agree, unless you have a warrant, or special circumstances apply. They don't on a public bus. http://law.justia.com/codes/ma... [justia.com]
      • all parties must agree, unless you have a warrant, or special circumstances apply. They don't on a public bus.

        Sure they apply -- the "special circumstances" are that public buses are disproportionately filled with poor people. That's likely why this legislation to restrict recording never went beyond committee even though it's been introduced four times in the past. Poor people have fewer lobbyists, so why should legislators care?

        The article also addresses precisely why the circumstances have changed -- the recent riots in Baltimore led to a number of specific complaints, apparently including complaints about t

      • Given that this is explicitly illegal, and the statute provides for civil suits ( State by state laws [rcfp.org]), it sounds like there could be a rather large payday in the wings for the class of MTA riders.

      • I am a bit confused why you don't think it applies on a public bus. Looking at the relevant code (thank you for the link), it looks like not only would c3 apply (noted by someone below), but section c.7.1 would also appear to apply--as long as a FoIA request were allowed for the recordings, it would be legal ("publicly accessible" recordings) even if there isn't prior notice to the riders on the bus.
      • This is correct. Maryland is an all party consent state - all parties must agree, unless you have a warrant, or special circumstances apply. They don't on a public bus. http://law.justia.com/codes/ma... [justia.com]

        Most likely there's a sign clearly visible at the entry to the bus that says something to the effect of "By boarding this bus, you agree to have your conversations recorded." Then they're covered.

    • Not that I agree with the practice (I don't) but is it? I was reading this: http://law.justia.com/codes/ma... [justia.com] and one could argue (and I imagine it might be) that the fine print to use the MTA has a statement that by using the service you agree to have your conversations recorded - putting them in compliance with provision c.3.

      I don't think that should be a condition to use a government service, especially a monopoly, but unfortunately the law allows all kinds of bullshit to slide in terms and conditions th

    • Why have the responsible persons not been arrested and put on trial?

      Because they are public employees.

    • Only one party has to be aware of the recording in MD. The MTA makes announcements regularly over the PA, so is a party to the recording.
    • Actually it's not a crime. Maryland law covers the intentional interception of a communication.

      First, there has to be intent. The incidental recording of a conversation is not covered by the law. So if two people are recording their conversation in a coffee shop and picked up a private conversation in the background that would not be illegal.

      Second, we have to define interception. According to numerous court rulings a communication can only be intercepted if it's private. A conversation in a public place

  • but some State Senators keep trying [.] "What [the MTA] is doing is a mass surveillance

    Is it me, or has there been an increase of missing periods in summaries since the last time Slashdot changed ownership?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As long as they're posting that this is happening, I'm moderately ok with this. There is *no expectation of privacy in a public place* so people should not expect that things they say in public will remain private. This is very different from the NSA collection since people expect their phone calls and emails not to be read by anyone other than the recipient.

    That said, wiretapping laws need to be changed so that any private citizen can do this as well. In some jurisdictions, it's illegal to record the po

    • "no expectation of privacy" and "no expectation of not having your every movement and statement recorded and kept for eternity" are two different things.
      • "no expectation of privacy" and "no expectation of not having your every movement and statement recorded and kept for eternity" are two different things.

        Not really. But if you don't want your public goings on to be recorded and stored forever vote. Vote in an informed way, and do it in local elections. Everyone overlooks local elections until something like this comes up, but they're as important if not more important in most people's daily lives than the big splashy national elections.

  • by DCFC ( 933633 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:23PM (#51629407)

    Google the names of senior executives at MTA and have conversations than slander their sexual habits, lack personal honesty, cruelty to animals and studying at a Bible University. Pepper your speech with copious profanity in multiple languages, making the task of humans who listen to this crap more onerous.
    Feel free to have such conversations, even if you are alone, which at the least will get you a seat to yourself.

    I ask you not to advocate any act of violence against anyone in this, but you can be creative. You and your (imaginary) friend can talk of how your coven of Devil Worshippers plan to put a curse on named senior execs at the bus company. ...or have loud conversations about how you're going to hold noisy messy protests outside the homes of named executives.

    The poor sods who have to monitor this will have to pass the 'threats' up the management chain. Enough false positives will make them reconsider their approach.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      In all likelihood it is unmonitored, just like the cameras. They are recorded for after the fact examination.
    • Google the names of senior executives at MTA and have conversations than slander their sexual habits, lack personal honesty, cruelty to animals and studying at a Bible University. Pepper your speech with copious profanity in multiple languages, making the task of humans who listen to this crap more onerous.
      The poor sods who have to monitor this will have to pass the 'threats' up the management chain. Enough false positives will make them reconsider their approach.

      More likely you'll be booted off the bus as a damn nuisance to the driver and passengers before you are up to speed and that will be the end of it.

      What you are advising of course is a conspiracy to slander and harass MTA execs --- which will end in a generous contribution to your attorney's retirement fund, and maybe a year or so in a Baltimore lock-up, assuming anyone thinks you are worth the trouble. .

  • how many times have they recorded BANKING info or other types of privileged data??

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03... [nytimes.com] Audio & Video from several camera on the Albany bus are being analyzed by State Police for use in court.
  • by Beavertank ( 1178717 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:45PM (#51629603)
    Seriously, that has to be the dumbest random libertarian aside I've ever seen in an article summary. "If we had competing public transport companies, one could've switched to a privacy-respecting competitor."

    Seriously? That's how you decide to slip in your political commentary? Come on...
    • Yeah, if we had competing private public transport companies, they'd be listening in as part of their marketing analytics campaigns anyway. In fact, I bet the MTA employees supposedly assigned to monitoring these microphones aren't even bothering.
    • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @01:26PM (#51629989) Journal

      If we had competing mass transit companies, they'd have repeating expenses and edge loss. They need 60 buses and 90 at peak; two companies need 34 buses each and 49 at peak, because the buses aren't always full and they aren't always taking everyone at the stops, so having a few additional means you can compete better.

      This is the nature of competition: it raises costs, but improves market conditions. For a government-run service, prices are usually closer to costs, so competition doesn't provide a market control; for a private industry like oil manufacture or steel production, competition means one firm can't overcharge their customers without another firm undercutting them to reap profits from all the new business they're getting. For extremely *large* industries, the edge loss in having multiple firms is minimal; it can even be more efficient to manage them as individual firms, and so a holding company or a bunch of unrelated businesses are both equally as efficient and both more efficient than one giant monopoly.

      Mass transit is a government-run service with a minimally-competitive market. It's lossy: a lot of seats are unfilled; you necessarily have to provide transit in a schedule-driven manner; and large buses or trains are more efficient than small buses or trains with the same total seating. In a world where individual transit is common, mass-transit is best as a government service; you don't need to legislate competition away because no business would survive supplying mass-transit in a fair market.

  • Isn't this a blatant breach of both the constitution and basic human rights?
    I mean how can this even be allowed to happen in the first place?
    I say Identify, fire and prosecute all the clowns that sanctioned this, and also fire all those that even knew about it and didn't blow the whistle.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      No, this bus is public, and what the microphone records can just as easily be heard by the driver and other passengers.
      Like security cameras, it is a matter of local laws, no need to bring the constitution and human rights here.

      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        Do the busses have signs saying you're being recorded? Even then its far too Big Brother for me.

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:58PM (#51629741)
    Where did this oddball bit of Libertarian dogma come from?

    If we had competing public transport companies, one could've switched

    Major cities do not run public transport because its a money-maker. They run it, usually at least somewhat subsidized by taxpayers, because their city needs an affordable public transportation system to operate smoothly.

    The purpose of public transport is to provide a transportation grid that your citizens (particularly those without access to private personal transport) can use to get wherever they want/need to go around your city effectively. In general there isn't competition for that from private companies not because the city doesn't allow it, but because private companies don't want to do that. In fact, the profit motive would not allow them to. If it was left up to competing private companies, the only bus routes a city would have would lead to its racetracks and casinos (but the bonus is the rides would probably be free. At least inbound.).

  • Record passengers aboard Maryland buses this year! Also, legislative efforts hope to break the record.

    Why no, I did not read TFA.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @01:14PM (#51629897)

    If we had competing public transport companies, one could've switched to a privacy-respecting competitor.

    It isn't easy to compete with an integrated and affordable mass transit system on this scale. Not to mention the small problem of finding a competitor who isn't keeping an eye on his own drivers and passengers.

    MTA Maryland operates a comprehensive transit system throughout the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. There are 80 bus lines serving Baltimore's public transportation needs, along with other services that include the Light Rail, Metro Subway, and MARC Train. With nearly half the population of Baltimore residents lacking access to a car, the MTA is an important part of the regional transit picture. The system has many connections to other transit agencies of Central Maryland, Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and south-central Pennsylvania (Hanover, Harrisburg, and York): WMATA, Charm City Circulator, Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland, Annapolis Transit, Rabbit Transit, Ride-On, and TransIT.

    Daily ridership: 392,831 weekday average

    Maryland Transit Administration [wikipedia.org]

  • Two other options jump to mind immediately:

    * Public protests
    * Legal challenges (maybe)

    Publicly shaming the MTA into doing the right thing is always an option.

    Depending on state and federal laws, the legal challenges may or may not be an option.

  • RTD here in Colorado (Regional Transportation District) does this as well. However the buses have signs in them that are right in your face as you get one stating that your conversation is being recorded. Generally they only use this information to figure out what happened in the case of a fight or an accident. I worked for a contractor that handled some of RTD's services in certain areas. They contract most of the buses/services out to 3-4 contractors. The only time we ever pulled video/audio off the buses
  • There's no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public bus. If you say something in a bus, you're clearly ok with the other passengers hearing it, so why not the government? Same thing with video surveillance. If anything it provides security in the DC/MD/VA area where without this surveillance it would be super unsafe on the bus/train because mugging and murder is a cottage industry in PG county and other shitty areas around DC. I understand that its a systemic problem and the government (and hence every
  • If we had competing public transport companies, one could've switched to a privacy-respecting competitor. Alas, MTA holds a monopoly and legislation is the only recourse.

    Poor little diddums has to deal with ebul gummint.

    BAWWWWWWWW.

The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to do a thing and to watch someone else doing it wrong, without commenting. -- T.H. White

Working...