Is your bus bugged for sound?

As if video surveillance isn't enough, local authorities are now listening in to conversations on public transport. Yes, even those nice cable cars in San Francisco soon may not be immune.

Don't look up. We're listening. CBS Baltimore. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Do you talk to your fellow passengers on public transport or perhaps on your cell phone to your beloved?

Do you enjoy listening in to passengers' conversations? It's so much more interesting than watching them clip their toenails.

Do you even, as I do, talk to yourself on occasion, when there's nothing better to do?

How would you feel if you local police force could listen in? I merely ask this, because of the mundane fact that they might be.

It seems that video surveillance just isn't enough these days. Your local everyday busybody authorities apparently are feeling the need to listen in on buses, just in case someone is discussing yesterday's bank robbery or tomorrow's drug deal.

So they're installing audio surveillance systems on a just-in-case basis.

As the Daily heard it, cities as liberal and sophisticated as Eugene, Ore., and, gosh, San Francisco have indulged their inner ear in order to listen in.

Indeed, San Francisco is spending a mere $5.9 million -- sent to it via the Department of Homeland Security -- in order to fit 357 buses and trolley cars with such devices over the next four years. And there's an option to add another 613 such vehicles. The listening devices, by the way, will be implanted on the ceiling.

One's imagination is, naturally, stimulated by the prospect.

Those who believe this is a mere trifle suggest that these audio systems simply serve to resolve disputes with passengers. This quaint thought came to the Daily from the executive director of Ozark Regional Transit in Arkansas.

Baltimore appears to have been a pioneer in extending its wires to sound. The city sweetly describes it in the CBS Baltimore video I've embedded as "the way the industry is going."

Sometimes industries, like bus drivers, can take wrong turns. Sometimes, people might feel a little like they've been co-opted into the movie "The Lives of Others," in which the Stasi listen in on the most intimate words.

Those seeking to find optimism in what seems like a disturbing development, can only rely on people's intelligence.

If, as one assumes, signs on buses make clear that every conversation is being recorded -- and kept for an alleged 30 days -- then surely no one will talk.

No one will pull out a cell phone to discuss last night's sleepover. No one will turn to their fellow passenger and remark on the tardiness of every bus coming out of the Port Authority.

Indeed, buses will become rolling Cistercian monasteries, where everyone is meditating and occasionally looking at one another in contemplative horror.

In some cities, this might even be a good thing. But how often in life have busybody eavesdroppers ever done anything but make things worse?

 

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