Canada Has Hidden Microphones In Airports Recording Conversations

from the why-that's-not-creepy-at-all dept

Some recent news out of Canada involves reports that the airport in Ottawa has hidden microphones installed, designed to record conversations of people. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) doesn't seem to see anything wrong with this, admitting that it's spent $500,000 upgrading video equipment to also include audio capturing. And, while the CBSA says that:
“It is important to note that even though audio technology is installed, no audio is recorded at this time. It will become functional at a later date..."
...it's also worth pointing out that the group admits similar equipment is already functional elsewhere.

What about your privacy rights? Well, clearly you read the fine print on the website of the airport you were using, right? That's where the details are going to be posted. There will be signs in the airport... telling you to check the website, because you just know people are going to rush to do that.


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    Alana (profile), Jun 19th, 2012 @ 7:55pm

    Privacy rights?

    What're those?

    ...You mean those things the government doesn't give a rats ass about?

     

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      ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 7:05am

      Re:

      Privacy rights?

      There are no, and should not be any, privacy rights in a public space. If you don't want your conversation to be heard, don't speak. Anyone within earshot can hear you.

      On the other hand, this is a problem because it may eventually record what you say. That, specifically, is the problem here. If I just happen to be standing within earshot and *hear* what you say, that is one thing, and really chances are I'll forget or ignore what you said because I really don't care. If I record what you say, then I am eavesdropping on the conversation and usually this isn't done for good reasons. In this case, the recording can go on to be used out-of-context to prosecute someone, for saying something in public.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 11:00am

        Re: Re:

        If you don't want your conversation to be heard, don't speak. Anyone within earshot can hear you.


        Technically true, but this gets muddy really fast. First, with the proper equipment "within earshot" may mean "within thousands of feet".

        But, more importantly, saying that you can't expect any form of privacy at all in public spaces is tantamount to saying that you don't get any privacy at all. Don't want anyone to know where you go? No problem, just don't go anywhere. Don't want anyone to hear what you say? No problem, just don't say anything. Don't want your purchase patterns to be tracked? No problem, just don't buy anything.

        Which means that if privacy is important to you, the only solution currently is to stop leaving your house or engaging in social interactions.

        That can't be right.

         

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          ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 7:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Technically true, but this gets muddy really fast. First, with the proper equipment "within earshot" may mean "within thousands of feet".

          Many states have rules against "augmented hearing" for this purpose. I agree that this is a slippery slope.

          But, more importantly, saying that you can't expect any form of privacy at all in public spaces is tantamount to saying that you don't get any privacy at all. Don't want anyone to know where you go? No problem, just don't go anywhere. Don't want anyone to hear what you say? No problem, just don't say anything. Don't want your purchase patterns to be tracked? No problem, just don't buy anything.

          I agree. I don't like it myself, although this is currently happening now, you are being spied on often in route to work, and you probably don't know it. However, the inverse to this is that the law says "mind your own business" and makes even hearing discussions you are not apart of illegal, meaning you have to wear special earmuffs wherever you go. There has to be a happy medium between the two.

          Which means that if privacy is important to you, the only solution currently is to stop leaving your house or engaging in social interactions.

          People give away privacy all the time, just for free stuff or even reduced costs in stuff. I try not to, but then again, I am here giving away my privacy talking on this public forum. Life involves risks, and part of those risks are leaving the house and engaging in social interactions.

          The problem isn't being spied upon (though I do have a problem with government and big business using personalized data to build profiles on me.) I, like everyone else other than bob, like Google, yet they spy on me all the time. It is just one of the risks of our society. I like discounts on food, so my preferred rewards cards sit in my pocket and get used whenever I go to the supermarket, even though they spy on me.

          The problem is being spied upon, and then, having that data that is collected used out-of-context to prosecute you for a crime you didn't commit, but for which they have a confession from you for having committed.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 3:20pm

            Re: ltlw0lf's "happy medium"

            makes even hearing discussions you are not apart of illegal, meaning you have to wear special earmuffs wherever you go. There has to be a happy medium between the two.

            Require that any audio/video collection be done by a device in plain view, such that a reasonable person, having casually looked around, above, and below him/her, would be aware that the device was present and functional. This precludes long range microphones and hidden listening devices, but still allows an obvious security camera.

            Optionally, say that a device worn is exempt if it is worn by a person whom a reasonable person should have detected. For example, an audio recorder on a police officer's belt is fine, if you reasonably should have known the officer was present, regardless of whether you knew the officer had recording equipment.

            Optionally, say that creating a recording outside of compliance with this specification is not an offense, but that such recording be considered an "improper search" and thus not usable by the government, nor permitted to be retained/searched by the government.

             

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    M. Alan Thomas II (profile), Jun 19th, 2012 @ 8:23pm

    It's an airport.

    An airport is a public space where I could (presumably) legally record the people around me. While that in and of itself doesn't make it okay for the government to monitor it, it's also not what I would call a public forum; it's a transportation hub, not somewhere I go for a quick political rant. Indeed, for decades now airports have been high-security (i.e., monitored) areas where we know that certain talk (e.g., jokes about bombs) is forbidden.

    To put it another way: This does not change my basic understanding of the world that airports are bad places to go when you want to talk about how much you hate the government and wish everyone would just die.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 8:59pm

      Re: It's an airport.

      I have to agree that this is another chapter in the Alarmist Handbook. As you noted, airports are high security, public spaces and given the events of 9-11, the shoe and underwear bombers it seems that maybe that's a prudent response to a legitimate threat. If I have to endure the government listening in while I bitch about my middle seat backing to the lavatory as the price of increased vigilance, I can live with that.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:08pm

        Re: Re: It's an airport.

        The problem is that every insane, unreasonable security measure always starts at the airport with the line of reasoning being "Well, this is because of 9/11 so we're safer", and then extends outward from there.

        Did you know the full-body scanners are now also seen at some football stadiums in America?

         

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        Arioch (profile), Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:23pm

        Re: Re: It's an airport.

        After it all, air travel is no longer the glamourous thing it was in the 1960's
        If someone want's to listen to me and my Mrs bitching in an airport about why we are here in this overstated bus station and both getting very pissed off about everything from the plastic courtesy to the overpriced "duty free" shite. If they want to record that I hope they have a very large hard drives or very sophisticated compression techniques because, given Mrs Arioch's capability with the spoken word, they are already on a loser. I hold my hand on my heart to the one that is prepared to sift through a recording of so much of {Mrs Arioch} in an airport

         

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        arcan, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 10:04pm

        Re: Re: It's an airport.

        you realize that there hasn't been a single terrorist attack not sponsored by the FBI on US soil since 9/11 right?

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 10:11pm

        Re: Re: It's an airport.

        "I can live with that."

        Good for you, others can't. Now go fuck yourself, you aggressive asshole.

         

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          DMNTD, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 10:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: It's an airport.

          Oh anyone "can" live with it, but you make it sound as if this won't be abused or that it could not. Nothing may come of it, but when it does I'm sure you will just bat your lashes and say "I do declare" if nothing else.

           

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        M. Alan Thomas II (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 1:51pm

        Re: Re: It's an airport.

        It's not that I think that this is necessarily going to be usefully increased vigilance—I'm quite happy to accept increased risk of dying if I can do so with a clean conscience—but I also don't think that I have much expectation of privacy in this context to begin with. Useless boondoggles that only cost me taxes just aren't what I come to Techdirt to complain about.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 8:56pm

    Yes, because we all know terrorist would just talk about their plans AFTER they get to the airport.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:06pm

      Re:

      I think that in the event of coordinated attacks that there just might be phone calls or conversations. Seems like a small price to pay in a public, high security space where the privacy expectations should be much lower. I'd assume they use facial recognition scanners like they use at the Super Bowl; which also seems wise. The First Amendment was ratified in 1791. Things have changed.

       

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        Rikuo (profile), Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:13pm

        Re: Re:

        Ya know what the terrorists are going to do now that this has hit the news interwebz?
        Speak in code! (If they're weren't already!)

        They're going to be holding phone calls with each other or speaking in person and NOT saying "The bombs are planted, and the timer is set to go".
        They'll be saying "I posted that present for your daughter, Mitch. Should be delivered within a couple of hours".

         

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        PRMan, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:37pm

        Re: Re:

        No. Things haven't changed. You think there weren't terrorists back when they wrote the Constitution?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:47pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          There weren't airports dipshit.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 10:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            There were ports instead, fuckface.

             

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 4:51am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              So there was a big danger of a sailing vessel being hijacked and turned into a missile targeting a skyscraper?

               

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                benjamin roberts, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 5:39am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                ha ha ha ha ha . funny. not. it's stupid replies like this that keep intelligent people out of these kinds of debates. that's the kind of smarmy crap my 11 year old son would throw back at me.
                things haven't changed. humans are still the aggressive, violent, paranoid, bickering tribal monkeys they've always been. whether its some modern day terrorist using airplanes or guy fawkes trying to bomb the tower of london; techniques and locations are obviously different, but the motivations and drives are exactly the same. And the First Amendment is more important than ever in this day and age of corporate and media steamrolling of individual opinion.
                "a sailing vessel being hijacked and turned into a missile targeting a skyscraper?" really? who let this guy in?

                 

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                  Niall (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 2:20am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament and the King in 1605, not the Tower of London.

                  And I'm pretty sure that 170 years later, the Parliamentarians and Royals were calling a different bunch of people 'terrorists' :)

                   

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                John Fenderson (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 11:04am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                There was a big danger of ships being hijacked and used as weapons to take out (crowded) ports.

                There is not a single aspect about 9/11 that was actually new and unprecedented. It gave us no problems that we've not seen and dealt with before.

                 

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          Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 4:26am

          Re: Re: Re:

          See: Boston Tea Party

          I bet the British government would call that an act of terrorism, if such a term was in vogue at the time.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 10:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            How dare you... that was a Patriotic act by Americans...


            What's that you say, one countries patriots are another countries terrorists?????? So how do we tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are if the only difference is which side of the 'border' they are on?

            Obviously if they are not on OUR side of the border, they are terrorists and can be shot on site or detained without recourse for the rest of their lives in a military prision.

            What do you mean other countries will start doing the same thing to our soldiers? Our soldiers are PATRIOTS I tell you, not TERRORISTS, I don't care what those other countries say....

             

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          Dr. Jimmy S. Rustled, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 5:17pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Back when we wrote the Constitution, WE were the terrorists.

           

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        ChrisH, Jun 21st, 2012 @ 8:32pm

        Re: Re:

        Do people seriously think that any terrorist/freedom fighter, let alone ones involved in a highly coordinated attack would be dumb enough to be caught by something so obvious. I wouldn't mind some of this stuff if there was a real security benefit, but the truth is that most of the time, we're sacrificing our freedoms and getting nothing in return. Unfortunately, there's a large cowardice population that buys into these types of actions. As with computer security, the attackers are several steps ahead of the bureaucrats. It takes individual actions by smart highly paid good guys to catch bad guys of the same caliber (read CIA), not blanket security policies implemented by low level drones (read TSA).

         

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    Cory (profile), Jun 19th, 2012 @ 9:08pm

    I'm actually kind of shocked that they weren't already listening.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 10:23pm

    big brother is just a click away!!

     

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    Jojo, Jun 19th, 2012 @ 11:08pm

    I've always figured that those dark windows on auto-flush toilets (that monitor light/movement changes to automatically flush airport toilets when you stand up) had cameras inside.

    That way if Johnny Terror pops into a airport bathroom stall for some privacy while he's preparing something, the airport SWAT team can be notified to swoop in their and grab him before he gets on a plane.

    I mean, it would almost be silly NOT to have them in there!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 1:00am

    i find it strange that so many Canadian politicians want to introduce legislation that is exactly like or extremely similar to that in the USA. if they are so keen to be under those rules, why dont they just up sticks and move over the border, leaving everyone else the hell alone?

     

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      Niall (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 2:23am

      Re:

      While we're at it, why not let all the intelligent, non-psychotic and decent (i.e. with hearts) Americans move north and make Canada a shining beacon of intelligence, education and human decency? :)

       

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    zub, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 2:12am

    Frankfurt Airport Anecdote

    Reminds me of something I've seen in Frankfurt almost two years ago (sorry for the picture quality - it was a bit dark for photographing there): http://linux.fjfi.cvut.cz/~zub/frankfurt_airport_ceiling_mic.jpg

    That is a piece of the ceiling of awaiting area at a gate in Frankfurt airport (Germany). And the thing in the middle is what looks like an ordinary microphone sticking out of it.

    I was thinking: WTF?! Now I know. They were just a bit less concealing than the Canadians. :))

     

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    Anshar (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 4:40am

    Did You Know...

    that all modern surveillance cameras have audio capability? I installed over two dozen inexpensive security cameras at the plant at which I work a couple of years ago and every single one has a condenser microphone in it and a jack for an external mic.
    In the firmware setup of each camera I had to explicitly turn the audio recording off because it was on be default. I'll bet that the $500,000 spent "upgrading video equipment to also include audio capturing" was just a bunch of external microphones.
    As a Canadian myself, I'm glad that our Privacy Commissioner put the brakes on this practice but I don't think it will last long.

     

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    benjamin roberts, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 5:51am

    Apathy, mate

    Here in Australia we have microphones hanging down from the ceilings of the motor registration office, what would be called the DMV in America. They've been there for years. Not sure why Big Bro wants to listen in on bored people standing in long queues. I guess places where strangers are forced to wait for a communal, unpleasant experience (flushing money down the toilet to register a car) fosters a hotbed of revolutionary activity and discussion. Australia is a model socialist democracy (translation: benignly authoritarian corporate dominated socially engineered nanny state/dictatorship) anyway, so no one here even gives a shit anymore. Our national slogan is "No worries mate."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 6:30am

    The Harper Government is ridiculous. They scrap the long form census in the name of privacy, but really it's to make sure they don't have data about "the poors" so they can deny they actually exist. The scrap the long gun registry in the name of privacy, just because it was a program started by the Liberals.

    Now they are trying to spy on people in airports, spy on citizen's digital communications but you know... they're very worried about privacy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 6:41am

    Haven't you been pointing out that one can't expect to have privacy rights when they say or do things in public? The only difference between this and filming police is that in this case, its not in our favor.

     

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      Niall (profile), Jun 21st, 2012 @ 2:26am

      Re:

      There is still some expectation of some privacy. By your argument, when outside, you won't mind clipping on a microphone so that the 'guvmint' can record everything you say, and a GPS transponder so it can see where you go. Because "you have no privacy in public". Lousy argument that has so much room for destroying all sorts of Amendment rights. You should always have some reasonable expectation of privacy, even if it's just to mutter under your breath. What, they've invented machines for picking sub-vocalisations and thoughts? Better get fitted with one quick!

       

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    Bob FiveThousand, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 6:58am

    *shrug*

    Ya know, and I'm something of a privacy nut, this really does not bother me. I've never felt I had any expectation of privacy in a public space like this.

     

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    Anshar (profile), Jun 20th, 2012 @ 7:17am

    Here's a thought.

    What is the difference between listening to audio of a conversation and watching one on video if the people are signing?

     

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    DogBreath, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 7:58am

    It will probably turn out to be a plot by some Canadian performance rights organization to collect money

    Because someone has to pay for the rights to sing and make music in airports.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENOwpL5oqeE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bdzOdPTZ34
    SOMEONE HAS TO PAY!!!

    Now if they could only put the mics in hospitals:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14oUpAmsS20

    Too bad we can't go back to the way we dealt with this kind of stuff in the good old days:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4CizzE-zZo
    That would be uncivilized and unprofitable, but oh so hilarious.

     

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    Isocrates, Jun 20th, 2012 @ 9:07am

    Not news

    Sorry, we've known this for years. Our border guards in Canada use microphones in the car line ups at all of the major border crossings, and have for years. But the border line up is part of customs and so we don't really care.

    Finding out that they do it at the customs line in an airport as well isn't exactly a surprise. I'd have been more surprised if they didn't.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    They're probably trying to catch people saying the word 'cunt'... (ILLEGAL in Canada!)

     

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