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MTA To Record Audio On Buses; Raises Privacy Concerns

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Flipping the switch. Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) officials are turning on the audio of surveillance cameras on buses. It’s a controversial move that’s causing a stir among lawmakers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and MTA riders.

As Gigi Barnett explains, some riders say their privacy is at stake.

Surveillance from the ceiling. MTA passengers have ridden with video cameras on the bus for years. Now, the transportation agency says it wants to hear what’s going on too.

“This is the direction the industry is going. Everyone realizes that it’s an invaluable tool to help law enforcement,” MTA spokesman Terry Owens said.

So, the agency is turning up the sound on its camera to record audio. Right now, they’re testing it on 10 buses.

Owens says the sound will help with future criminal cases like that of 19-year-old Ernestine Parker.

Police say she was attacked by two men on the bus last month and surveillance camera was able to catch the suspects in action.

But Owens says if there was audio on board, police may have been able to get more clues.

It’s a welcome plan for some riders.

“The way people be acting on the bus right now, you want to know who it is,” Harold White, MTA passenger.

“The intent here is a good intent but that’s not enough,” ACLU attorney David Rocah said.

That’s why the ACLU is waging a battle over audio on the buses.

Rocah says back in 2009, the civil rights group fought the move. Now, with the support of the attorney general, the MTA is pushing forward with its plan to turn up the audio.

Rocah fears the move will lead to a loss of more privacy in public.

“They have the video cameras where they can see what people are doing. They can document assaults,” he said. “The question is, should they be able to listen to our most intimate conversations?”

The MTA said they do have that right. Once this plan is fully implemented, there will be six cameras on each bus on more than 300 of the city’s buses. There is a black box on buses much like an airplane’s that will also watch and hear everything.

Several cities have turned up the sound on surveillance cameras. Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore’s Charm City Circulator all record sound on public buses.

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