City buses inBaltimore will begin recording the conversations of bus drivers and passengers this week in a security move that has upset privacy advocates and some Maryland lawmakers, the Baltimore Sun reports.
The first 10 buses will be expanded to 340 by next summer as a result of a decision by the Maryland Transit Administration.
The MTA says the move is aimed at helping investigate crimes, accidents and poor customer service, according to the Sun.
The conversations will be recorded by a locked "black box" that can store up to 30 days of audio and video information. It could be opened in the event of an accident, an incident involving a passenger or a complaint against a driver, the newspaper says.
The buses will be also marked with signs to alert passengers to the open mics.
David Rocah, a staff attorney with the Maryland chapter of the ACLU, says he is "flabbergasted" by the MTA's decision, saying having a conversation recorded should not be a condition for riding a public bus.
The administrative ruling came despite the failure of the Maryland Legislature in three sessions to put forth bills specifically authorizing such surveillance.
But Del. Melvin Stukes, one of the bill's sponsors and an MTA customer service investigator, says such legislation is aimed at eliminating bad language that often leads to violence.
"This is not your bathroom. This is not your bedroom," he says. "... I'm just trying to clean up problems (and) provide a more congenial, more cordial ride."