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Big Brother may be coming to your local public bus system

Surveillance_camera_121212_optPAM LOBLEY

Several cities in the U.S. are installing equipment on their public buses that will allow authorities to listen to and record the conversations of their passengers.

Seriously?  When I ride the bus, the last thing I want to do is listen to the conversation of my fellow passengers.  They’re droning on about some tension at their job, or their talking about their ex-boyfriend, or they’re on the phone asking their spouse if they should make the tacos with pork or beef.

Unbelievably, the conversations are being recorded as a safety measure.  As reported on Digital Journal, Maryland Transit Administrator Ralign Wells says, "We want to make sure people feel safe, and this builds up our arsenal of tools to keep our patrons safe."

Safe from what?  Are terrorists plotting nefarious deeds while riding crosstown?  Are pickpockets discussing their strategy with each other in between stops?

Baltimore, Maryland is one of the cities using these devices.  I know Baltimore has a high crime rate, and perhaps they feel that tracking criminals as they ride the bus may yield some evidence in criminal cases.  But other cities that are planning to record their bus passengers are Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan and Athens, Georgia.  Are there a lot of bus-riding thieves in Traverse City, Michigan?   Cat-burglar by night, blabber-mouth bus rider by day?  Does Harford, CT, have a bunch of meth dealers who get on the bus and chat about where their lab is and who they sell to?

Once they have all these recordings, somebody’s going to have to listen to them.  Ugh.  I’m glad that’s not my job.  Middle-aged women complaining about their latest haircut (“I told her — not too much off the back!”) or a man detailing his recent colonoscopy (“The prep is the worst.  I finally just took my iPhone into the bathroom with me.”)

Privacy law experts are surprised and disturbed by this surveillance, and presumably, the public will be too, once they become aware of it.  Nobody wants Big Brother listening in on their chatter, but we all know that these days our every move is tracked.  Not only are we video-taped in public places, but our online activity is constantly followed by advertisers.  Perhaps that’s the real reason for this surveillance — transit officials can sell this information to retailers, and we can be accosted by sales pitches while we ride.  Boarding the bus will be just like logging on to Amazon.  “Hello, Pam! We’ve got recommendations for you!”

It’s enough to make people on the bus stop talking.  One can only hope.

Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column.  Check out her blog:  Better Living Through Chaos! Follow her on twitter @plobley.

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