Homeland Security Pays San Francisco To Buy Surveillance Equipment That Records Video AND Audio On City Buses

from the surveillance-society dept

We all know that law enforcement has been regularly expanding its ability to spy on people at every turn, especially with surveillance cameras installed all over the place. But it still seems a bit shocking to find out that many municipalities are installing systems on public buses that record both audio and video of everyone on the bus — including in San Francisco. That doesn’t just seem like overkill, it raises significant legal questions. California — for better or for worse (and I’d argue, for worse) is a two party consent state when it comes to recording, meaning everyone has to know they’re being recorded. So it seems like recording without getting consent should be seen as an illegal, warrantless form of wiretapping. Even more troubling: the reason San Francisco is doing this upgrade? The Department of Homeland Security paid them to do it. It gave them a grant covering the entire cost. Is Homeland Security really worried about drunks getting into a brawl on the bus? Or do they see this as an opportunity to do significantly more involved surveillance? The whole program seems pretty troubling, and yet more and more places are adding the devices, with little to no public recognition.

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Comments on “Homeland Security Pays San Francisco To Buy Surveillance Equipment That Records Video AND Audio On City Buses”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is, in a manner of speaking, somewhat true. The difference is, they aren’t really looking for the Al-Queda style terrorist. Given that thousands of years of history have shown that all governments inevitably gravitate towards tyranny, it is important for such governments increasingly headed in that direction to identify potential resistance to that sort of shift (the next generation George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons, and Benjamin Franklins as the case may be).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am well aware of that. becuase of what a EU politicoan said abour the ACTA protests.

Marielle Gallo who chaired one of the committees, and supports the treaty, made some interesting comments over this :-
“We’re supposed to represent citizens, but since they are busy with other things, we are supposed to think for them!”
“It’s not only a disinformation campaign. It’s a soft form of terrorism that frightens people. People are being scared. It’s a fantasy. ACTA has become a fantasy. And that, that’s propagated by the whole Internet network.”

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree. How is this different than walking into 7-11 or pretty much any other building? All the SF DOT has to do is slap a small sticker on the bus window that says “You are being filmed.”

Filmed is fine. There is, after all, no expectation of privacy. However, I believe the law is quite a bit more against eavesdropping on conversations.

With filming, you only see what is happening in front of the camera, at that particular time. Unless you are an idiot, it is really difficult to do something that will incriminate yourself. On the other hand, conversations usually have an element to them that may be mistaken without context. It is entirely possible that you can be having a conversation that if taken out of context could incriminate you. (“Man, I killed last night at the bowling alley…”)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

All the SF DOT has to do is slap a small sticker on the bus window that says “You are being filmed.”

Actually it needs to at least specify that audio is being recorded. I’m not sure if even that would be enough since I’m not familiar with the California recording law. Apparently it worked in Maryland:

“In 2009, transit officials in Baltimore, Maryland, backed down briefly from plans to install microphones in buses in that city after civil liberties groups complained that the systems would violate wiretapping laws and constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure. Transit authorities then asked the state?s attorney general to weigh-in on whether the systems violated wiretapping laws. After the attorney general indicated that signs warning passengers of the surveillance would help combat any legal challenges, transit officials pressed forward with their plans last month and announced the installation of an audio recording system on 10 public buses. The city plans to roll out the system on at least 340 additional buses.”

Gert-Jan says:

Re: Re:

> This is in public places where you can have no expectation of privacy

It is silly to put it like that. Of course there is an expectation of privacy, but each and every time the discussion is what the proper expectation should be!

For example, I can expect the contents of my wallet to stay private, as long as I don’t open my wallet in public.

A relevant question here is, if I am in the back of a bus with a friend, and the only person in the bus in the driver, then should I expect our “low voice” conversation to be private?

If I take my smartphone and browse through my list of contact, should I expect this list of contacts to stay private?

If I put on my headphones and listen to a training course for the English language, should I expect this fact to stay private?

Obviously a move like this lowers the expectations the generic public can have. It is a valid question whether we – the public – want this. But is this question being asked?

Just Another Limey (profile) says:

Re: It?s not about wisdom, it?s about behaviour


Would be what goes on in a public toilets fair game? Maybe in a primary school?

What about the changing rooms of stores, or sports centres?

Is it acceptable to look up a woman’s skirt if she’s in a public area?

And just how close can you put your ear to the door of the confessional, or the doctors room?

At some time or another, authorities, or people in authority have seen no problem with breaching an expectation of privacy in these areas. This is sadly another example of poor behaviour on the part of those who ought to know better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It?s not about wisdom, it?s about behaviour

Here we actually have surveillance cameras at some public toilets. Not showing the actual toilet though and not recording sound. The reasoning is to avoid vandalism (and that is actually a fair point).

Cameras in busses are standard equipment.

The only thing new would be the sound recording. Not sure that changes much to be honest. Either you expect to be watched or you don’t. In this case, it is something that seems unnecessary, but the privacy is already breached. The difference between muted surveillance and surveillance based on temperature sensors, artificial nose, audio and video with infrared and nightvision, combined with a directional microphone; is small.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You are an idiot.

A 7-11 is not a public space. It’s a private establishment. They can do what they want.

Privacy is the right to say no.

You have privacy for any information that cannot be reasonably acquired by the unaided eye or ear.

Also it refers to action without warrant as well.

Please get a clue.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A 7-11 is not a public space. It’s a private establishment.

It is both a private business and a public place. For the purposes of this discussion it’s about expectation of privacy.

“Business premises. You have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your office, so long as it?s not open to the public. But if there is a part of your office where the public is allowed, like a reception area in the front, and if a police officer enters that part of the office as any other member of the public is allowed to, it is not a search for the officer to look at objects in plain view or listen to conversations there. That?s because you?ve knowingly exposed that part of your office to the public. However, if the officer does not stay in that portion of the premises that is open to the public ? if he starts opening file cabinets or tries to go to private offices in the back without an invitation ? then his conduct becomes a search requiring a search warrant…

Public places. It may sound obvious, but you have little to no privacy when you are in public. When you are in a public place ? whether walking down the sidewalk, shopping in a store, sitting in a restaurant or in the park ? your actions, movements, and conversations are knowingly exposed to the public. That means the police can follow you around in public and observe your activities, see what you are carrying or to whom you are talking, sit next to you or behind you and listen to your conversations ? all without a warrant.” (emphasis added)

From https://ssd.eff.org/your-computer/govt/privacy

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m starting to get the feeling they knew they were going to expand to buses and subways and such every since they had to choose the name for their agency. That’s why they didn’t call it Airline Security Agency or something, and instead used “Transportation”. They wanted to do this from day one. Unbelievable. This looks like it’s about to get a lot worse. I’m never setting foot in US until they abolish TSA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“When do the concentration camps open for business?”

Already have – except they are called “For Profit Prisons”. They are a convenient source of slave labor and allows the benefits of outsourcing without the added cost and this is all on the taxpayers’ dime, which of course equals double plus good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

All surveillance does is make it easier to catch and prosecute criminal after a crime has been committed. This is measurable for management statistics, while crime prevention because of police patrols is not. Therefore spending money on surveillance equipment does more to improve the statistics that employing more patrol officers.

Mr. Applegate says:

HAL = “Homeland security, Administration and Law enforcement”

“HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The Department of Homeland Security is the most reliable agency ever created. No Homeland Security employee has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error. “


“HAL: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”


“HAL: I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you. “

Gwiz (profile) says:


The Department of Homeland Security paid them to do it. It gave them a grant covering the entire cost.

DHS also funded a creepy system in my area (also an all-party consent state) where the street lights watch you:


InfoWars describes what these creepy systems can actually do:


Anonymous Coward says:

I'm a bit confused

little mikee;

How is it that you seem to think that when I am out in public I have no right to privacy. People can record my every move with a video camera and you say that’s perfectly acceptable.

Yet this is EXACTLY the same thing, they are simply video taping what happens inside of a Bus which is PUBLIC transportation, and you cry like the little baby you are about how wrong it is..

Aren’t being kinda hypocritical??? OH wait, you twist your stories around to make whatever point your agenda calls for…. OH I forgot you have so many articles about how other new sorces twist words around… OH I forget this little mikee we are talking about

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm a bit confused

Here’s the difference: One is a powerful entity that can screw over your life, send you to prison, impose large fines, take away everything you have, etc; the other is not.

If private companies are collecting the data and if the government will pay good money to get it, then the private companies are likely to provide it. The government is just another customer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm a bit confused

If a member of the public catches you on film, they take no action unless you are obviously committing a crime. When the security services do it,, you are at risk of false association, such as giving direction to a stranger, who goes on to rob a bank in a neighboring town, and the swat squad comes through your front door.

policestate says:

Our town has been approving and upgrading the little police department with goodies from Homeland Security for years now. The police are never questioned about why they are getting things like rapid scan license plate readers (in a sleepy town with very little crime). No one wants to question the police, and these purchases are approved unanimously.

It’s “free” and the police asked for it, so it must be for our safety, right?

Homeland Security has been militarizing police departments for years, and tying them in to data sharing schemes that do almost nothing to stop local crimes, nothing to stop the terrorists they say are everywhere, and everything to help spy on Americans.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

A company is making money

As someone pointed out about the for-profit prisons, don’t assume everything that is done by the government is done for the benefit of government. It is quite likely a government contractor stands to benefit from whatever the government purchases.

And also, keep in mind that invasion of privacy is an issue with private companies, too. Don’t focus on government without also focusing on what private companies are doing with our lives and making money with it, too.

I don’t want government privacy issues to be used as a way to direct people’s attentions away from private company privacy issues.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: A company is making money

More to the point. Everything we do is being monitored or will be monitored. Companies want to know where we shop in stores, what we look at, etc. If it is possible for companies to follow us in everything we do and link it to everything else we do, they will.

Whether by government paying private companies monitoring us, or by private companies monitoring us on their own, it is being done.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: A company is making money

Funny. I was just reading this. It’s being cited to illustrate the benefits of technology for a for-profit business. Yes, I know: If a private company does it, it’s good. If the government does it, it’s bad.

sidewinder.fm: Music Festivals Are Ripe for Hacking: “Most organizers are making wristbands with RFID embedded in them that you can?t remove until the event is over. This would enable organizers to efficiently track the locations of attendees and supplement the festival experience with interactive technology.”

Mega1987 (profile) says:

CCTV in buses

If they’ll just put ONLY one CCTV and that’s FACING the door of the bus, Then I won’t mind having surveillance equipment being placed on the bus…

But litter the freaking public transportation of CCTV with absurd and unneeded umber of them then you’re not spying those who’s riding on it… but also upping the fare price tag…

Way to go to make more money out of public transportation…

I’ll just take a walk to my destination even it will take me an hour to get there by foot than rather pay something way over my fare money can handle…

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

I guess they can just post a EULA where you pay the fare?

By boarding this transit and paying the fare, you agree that you are subject to surveillance including, but not limited to, video and audio recording, including frequencies not perceptible by humans.

If you don’t select the non-default option of “I agree” upon attempting to pay the fare, you are ejected from the passenger entry by the top-secret equivalent of a Bat-Ejector Seat? which is covered by one or more of the following patents…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, No

“and there is no damned problem with this.”

Except that it is a huge waste of public dollars with little to no benefit to the public. The only people who benefit are the ones with the contracts to furnish and maintain the surveillance equipment. These programs are most likely the result of earmarks, which iirc many congress critters have denounced publicly but endorse privately.

So – maybe you have no issue with this … however, there are many who do.

Khoury says:

been on a muni?

I’ve stopped riding muni busses in SF. There is never a trip without some drama. EVER! This city has turned a blind eye on crime for far too long. I’ve witnessed 5 crimes last month alone. Significant crimes. Nobody feels safe in 9/10ths of the neighborhoods here. I for one welcome any plan anyone has to turn the tables on the criminals.

wireless camera (user link) says:

Wireless cameras


A/V module with 3.7mm micro IP CMOS camera 600TVL and wireless antenna. For high definition recordings also via network.

The transmission module IP-WEB, with 3.7 mm IP CMOS micro camera, is one of the audio-video monitoring devices more suitable to transmit, reproduce and record video over the network. The unique features of this exclusive audio-video surveillance device are the micro-camera with 600TVL sensor, which allows to get high-quality video images, the small size of the module and the ease of remote management settings use.

The video recordings can be activated both remotely and manually or automatically, or be delegated to the integrated motion detection system that will start at the slightest movement to record each single frame of the action in progress. If you don’t want miss the pleasure of capturing real time important information and overwhelming evidence, the module can be managed from your mobile phone, thanks to a very intuitive and user friendly application.

The IP-WEB module installation requires no special skills, you have only to find the right placement for its installation. The module compactness allows a perfect hiding in small everyday objects* such as clocks, wall clocks, small household appliances etc.


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