baltimoresun.com

« Gas prices continue to fall | Main | Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea »

July 20, 2009

MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

Update: Maryland Transportation Administration Acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Monday evening that she has withdrawn the following request to the attorney general for a legal opinion, saying the matter should have been reviewed at the department  level before the MTA sought legal advice.

Swaim-Staley took the action after the following was reported here early Monday.

The MTA is considering installing audio surveillance equipment on its buses and trains to record conversations of passengers and employees, according to a letter sent by the MTA's top official to the state Attorney General's Office.

The letter, reported by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, seeks legal guidance on whether installing such equipment would violate Maryland's anti-wiretapping law. In his letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld notes that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

"As part of MTA's ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now  in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and decided to send a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping  would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

Whether legal or not, the notion didn't play well with Paul Gordon, who broke the story on the Montgomery County-based blog.

"Personally, I find the idea of the state recording people’s conversations on public transportation creepy, something I would expect from the old Soviet Union," Gordon wrote.

I was reminded this weekend during a trip to Artscape on light rail that  one of the chief sources of amusement aboard public transit are the too-loud and uninhibited conversations of fellow passengers. It would be a shame if riders were cowed into silence by the fear that someone in authority was recording their descriptions of their wild weekends.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)
        

Comments

This is silly. Instead of working on recording conversations, they should work on getting a public address system working at the light rail stations so customers can be notified of delays and interruptions.

I'm floored that this has even been mentioned, let alone proposed. If such public surveillance of citizens isn't illegal, it needs to be.

I'm not automatically going to jump up and down for such a system...

But those uninhibited actions Paul Gordon loves so much resulted in me and my girlfriend getting smacked in the head more than once by a drunk lady who felt she was entitled to our seats. The train was so crowded it would have been nearly impossible to get off and report the situation to MTA police (and make our way through several individuals levying threats to 'pop you' for having the audacity to remain seated when they had requested we give up our seats).

Had it continued, I would have dialed 911 on my phone, but one rational individual with the group tried to talk this person down and luckily they got off the train before we did.

If only that had been recorded.

"I have long contended that the Maryland Transit Administration needs to be a better job of listening to its customers, but this isn't quite what I had in mind..."

You said it all. Working for the MTA customer comments division must be the easiest job in the world. Well, short of working in MTA customer service.

Instead of installing listening devices in buses, perhaps citizens should insist that they install listening devices in all the board rooms of America...where the real crimes are committed.

One word: 1984

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Live traffic updates
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Traffic and commuting news Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser's Getting There column Subscribe to this feed
Michael Dresser How-Tos

How to avoid Delaware traveling north
Obscure third route between Baltimore, D.C.
Better routes for I-95 north
How to avoid the Bay Bridge
Find cheaper gas
Check prices at area gas stations by ZIP code and find the lowest rates in the region with our new interactive gas map.

Baltimore-area lowest gas prices
Historical gas price charts
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Charm City Current
Traffic Resources
Baltimore Metropolitan Council (Regional transportation planning)
Maryland Department of Transportation (State transportation policy)
Maryland Transit Administration (Buses, light rail, Metro, Mobility)
State Highway Administration (Maintains numbered routes)
Motor Vehicle Administration (Licenses, permits, rules of the road)
Maryland Transportation Authority (Toll bridges, tunnels and highways)
Maryland Aviation Administration (BWI and Martin Airport)
AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report (Track Maryland average gas prices.)
MarylandGasPrices.com (Find the lowest and highest prices.)
SafeRoadMaps (Find out where the crashes happen.)
Roads to the Future (Scott M. Kozel on Mid-Atlantic infrastructure.)
WMATA (Washington metropolitan buses and Metro)
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (D.C. regional planning)
U.S. Department of Transportation (federal transportation policy)
Stay connected