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Md. Lawmakers ‘Sound Off’ On Bus Camera Audio

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — An important investigative tool or a violation of your privacy? Should the MTA be allowed to record audio on their surveillance cameras on buses?

Gigi Barnett explains that question is now before lawmakers in Annapolis.

Some bus drivers and passengers say a trip on the bus can be a dangerous situation, and there is plenty of surveillance video to prove it. Now that the MTA wants to turn the audio up on some of its video cameras, some lawmakers are saying not so fast.

Assaults and attacks on bus drivers and passengers. It’s a growing problem cities across the nation are reporting.

Baltimore sees it too–like YouTube showing a passenger and driver fighting on the bus. The driver was suspended after the brawl. So back in October, the MTA turned on the audio on a handful of existing cameras, so it can see and hear and properly investigate crime.

“It shouldn’t be a condition of riding on a public bus that the government records everything you say,” said David Rocah, ACLU Staff Attorney.

The move caught some heat from the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney David Rocah says the group fears the audio will cut into the privacy of riders.

“Do people think it would be OK for the government to put audio recorders on every utility pole, lamp pole, street sign in Baltimore or any other municipality?” Rocah asked.

Some state lawmakers don’t think so. That’s why two of them have written a bill. And if it passes, the MTA would have to turn the audio back off.

MTA CEO Ralign Wells says if that happens, his agency will lose a valuable tool that could help investigators find the back-story of most crimes on the bus.

“People want to have more security and they want to know how we’re protecting them. We have the technology and yet our officers have to go to YouTube to investigate incidents–because the YouTube video has audio on it,” Wells said.

The MTA started using the audio on 10 buses under a pilot program in the fall. Now it hopes to include that technology on half its fleet by the summer.

More cities are turning the audio on public buses. Recently, San Francisco just received a grant to record audio to investigate crimes.

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