Muni's Surveillance System to Get Major Overhaul

Thanks to a $5.9 million Homeland Security grant, Muni's antiquated surveillance system is getting an upgrade

Next time you step on to Muni you might want to watch what you say and do.  The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency is using federal grant money to buy updated surveillance cameras that can be watched and listened to in real-time.

You may not know it, but surveillance cameras that record audio and video inside Muni’s trains and buses are nothing new. In fact, the cameras have been around for the last 12 years.  But now, thanks to a $5.9 million Homeland Security grant, the antiquated system is getting a major overhaul.

“The information we receive from the surveillance video is very helpful for authorities and Muni personnel,” SFMTA’s Paul Rose said. “The authorities are able to investigate crimes and find out what took place and use that as leads for their investigation.”

The new system uses real-time recording which could allow Muni or law enforcement to listen live.  The technology also allows Muni to transfer recordings wirelessly to police who don’t need a warrant for the information -- that’s because it’s considered public.

“We don’t have the resources or infrastructure to watch what’s going on real-time in our entire system,” xxxx said.  “This is only for investigative purposes to pull the video and hand it to authorities.”

Still, the system raises some concern for University of San Francisco law professor Robert Talbot.

“Even if it’s only the authorities that are looking at it, there is a possibility that hackers can get into this kind of technology and communications that can be very, very important and very, very private and having nothing to do with threats to government and crime and use it against somebody,” Talbot said.

Talbot says even though people are getting more and more used to technology, they don’t necessarily get onto a bus or train and think about their conversations being recorded.  “Actually it is big brother,” he said. “There is no way around it. It just is what it is.”

Muni contends their responsibility is to notify the passenger that they are being recorded, which they say they do with decals and signs on every vehicle. 

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