Ears Everywhere: US Buses, Street Lights Will Soon Record Audio

December 11th, 2012

NSA whistle-blowers have recently exposed the fact that most text messages and emails sent by Americans are captured and logged in government databases. It’s safe to say that emails and text messages are no longer truly private. Also, spy cameras are showing up in municipalities across the country, capturing millions of hours worth of video of the actions of citizens, despite the fact that none of them are specifically accused of any crime.

As if these privacy violations weren’t egregious enough, now every word spoken in public might be captured and logged by the government as well. Russia Today is reporting that city buses in the US are now being equipped with spy cameras that record audio. Also, a new type of Department of Energy funded street light is being implemented in municipalities. This new system called “IntelliStreets” is outlined in the below video and contains a wide array of surveillance technologies aimed at creating a city-wide audio and video capture grid. This shocking move towards the public logging of all audio brings new privacy problems to American life.

Big Brother Is Listening

If all text messages, phone calls, emails, and publicly uttered statements will some day be collected by the government, Americans will only be able to have private conversations at home. This could fundamentally change the nature of human interaction in a detrimental way. Could some shy people begin to fear speaking in public at all since someone might be listening to everything they say?

Meanwhile, the law enforcement utility of technology like this is questionable. How easily can investigators sift through so many hours of useless, irrelevant audio? Since the vast majority of people being recorded are not criminals, the lion’s share of the captured content will be of no help to criminal investigations. Only an algorithm could sort through so much data. Do we want to start trusting computer programs to carry out this type of police work?

US Citizens Deserve Privacy

One does not have to be an international terrorist to be offended by surveillance technology. What if a CEO is discussing secret trade information on a street corner, only to have it stolen by a government employee listening in through the IntelliStreets system? There are lots of innocuous things that people talk about privately among friends. Americans shouldn’t have to worry that their sexual preferences, medical issues, financial data, or other crucial info are being cataloged in government databases. Spoken conversations on a public bus might relay these types of subjects.

Also, surveillance technology is vulnerable to hacking. The same is true of unmanned drones. Given that organizations like WikiLeaks and Anonymous routinely help themselves to classified government data, taxpayers should be concerned that any and all public records might some day wind up in the hands of identity thieves. With access to hours and hours of unknowingly-recorded audio, such criminals could wreak serious havoc on unsuspecting citizens.

Between the use of aerial unmanned drones, the collection of all digital communications, and the recording of all public audio and video by the government, Americans will soon struggle to find locations where it is possible to have a truly private conversation.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.