Are TriMet bus microphones an invasion of privacy?

Are TriMet bus microphones an invasion of privacy? »Play Video
One of the signs on new TriMet buses warning people that both video and audio are being recorded.

PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s clear enough from the cameras mounted on TriMet buses that somebody is watching, but on a new model of bus somebody could also be listening.

TriMet added 55 new buses to their fleet last fall. Unlike old buses, all of the new models are equipped with a series of microphones that constantly record audio.

There are signs posted that state both video and audio is being recorded, but the American Civil Liberties Union is crying foul.

“People shouldn’t have to give up their privacy right as a condition of getting on public transit,” said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon chapter of the ACLU.

Fidanque said the ACLU hasn’t yet filed any formal challenge to the microphones, but they do have a lawyer investigating possible action.

The ACLU claims the microphones violate an Oregon law governing what can be recorded. Specifically, the law states that a recording can’t be made unless “all participants in the conversation are specifically informed that their conversation is being obtained.”

The buses have a sign posted warning that audio and video is being recorded.

“We don’t think posting of the sign is going to cut it,” Fidanque said. “Why should (people) be subjected to these recordings when they’re not doing anything wrong?”

TriMet disagrees with the ACLU interpretation of the law.

“We feel we met that test,” said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. “It’s a public space and we’ve given notice” in the form of the signs.

Fetsch said nobody at TriMet will be actively monitoring the recordings. Rather, they will use the audio when there is a specific incident.

“We’re not interested in someone’s conversation between their friends or siblings,” Fetsch said.

She said when an incident happens on a bus TriMet officials review the video. If an incident happens on a new bus, they will now also be able to review the audio.

“It will give us a fuller picture of what’s happening,” Fetsch said.

Several passengers we spoke to on Wednesday said they were not happy about being recorded.

“I guess it’s a little unnerving,” said a passenger named Rachel. “Why would you need that?”

“Personally I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” said a passenger named Noah. “It’s not a very big sign. I don’t think many people are aware of it.”

A woman named Jan said she didn’t notice the signs, but she did think recording audio was fine.

“I think it’s important to have stuff like that to record crimes that are committed,” Jan said. “I’ve been on buses where they didn’t have it and it’s a ‘he said, she said’ and it can get all tangled.”

Are you okay with TriMet recording audio on buses with only a sign warning? Leave your comments below.