BCTA: Smile, you’re on camera and being audiotaped

Today I went to check something on the BCTA (Beaver County bus system) website and found a notice saying that now not only are cameras installed, but these devices have audio capture capacity and will record all conversations.

I was concerned about human rights here, right to privacy and private conversations. People know already that cameras are installed and we tend to wear clothes. 99% of us just sit and play with cell phones, read, or talk on the phone. Some passengers converse with each other. In fact, we often have a lively dialogue going.

I called the BCTA and they had a supervisor call me back. She explained that a new Pennsylvania law allows the  BCTA to do this, implying that they’ve always wanted audio and now, they get what they want.

I got curious and found the law. It is called PA Title 18. This is precisely a wiretapping law outlining what’s legal and what is not. I couldn’t tell from the law which parts had been added recently. I read through it as best I could, skipping over the parts that were clearly not relevant to this situation.

The BCTA told me signs were posted on the buses. I saw none! My eyes are decent now and all I saw posted on the bus visibly were schedules we could grab (I did!).

Here is the law: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=57

And here is an explanation by two attorneys, in brief of two aspects of the law, the assumption of privacy (when privacy is assumed then the taped party must consent) and the aspect of consent of the taped party:


I challenge the idea of the bus being private. Most buses are not private and any conversation can be overheard. However, when you think about it, if the bus is not that crowded then can people really hear? If no one is near, if you sit away from others and it isn’t rush hour, considering how loud the bus engine is, then, no way can anyone hear.  However, you have to ride the BCTA to know this. Most who speak on the phone on the bus speak under the assumption that no other passengers can hear, the assumption of privacy. Now, guess what? You are on tape.

It says on the BCTA bus site that all conversations are taped. Even that conversation you had with your lover that you thought was not overheard. Even those discussions of medical issues, which is protected information under a federal law called HIPAA.

Can we lower our voices so that we will not be heard? Have you ever tried that on a bus?

This is why real bus riders need to be involved here.

There is also the issue of consent. Do the bus drivers have the ability to turn off the recording on request of the passengers? I doubt they even have access to the technology.

It it really consent on the part of the riders? I do not think so. Most have no choice. We have to get to work. Many of us ride 20 miles or more to our destination, because Beaver County is outlying. What other choice do people have? Swim in the river to get to work?

I don’t think any of us riders were given a choice. No, we did not choose. We begrudgingly resigned to it. That’s not consent at all!

Let’s look at who rides the bus. Are we a bunch of criminals? I want you guys to ask your friends about people who ride the public bus system. Those that do not mostly assume we’re all criminals. Those that do, that know the buses well, clearly do not think this. We know better! Human beings  of all sorts ride the bus. From my observation, almost all are not criminals. and even of those that have an iffy past,  may I ask who among us is perfect? We are there to get from one place to another.

Do I see economic disparity here in this pervasive attitude? Do I see elitism? Were bus riders even consulted on this, and if so, which bus did they ride? I ask because of the obvious economic disparity between the #4 bus riders and those that ride the 1 or the 2.  I think a fair cross-section of bus riders should take part in these decisions.

This is different issue than having recorders on school buses. Children have no rights anyway. The issue of consent here is clouded by their age.

I phoned my state rep and spoke with his aide about the discrepancies and my observations. I am interested in seeing what results.


Feedback and comments welcome!