- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2016

The New Jersey Transit is nearly done installing audio and video recorders inside each of its light-rail trains, but opponents are up in arms over what they say is a lack of privacy safeguards.

NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith told NJ.com this week that interior audio and video surveillance systems are nearly installed on the entirety of the system’s light-rail fleet, less than a year after it was announced that nearly $2 million in federal funds would be put toward ramping up transit security.

“Passengers have repeatedly told the agency that security is a priority in the quarterly scorecard surveys of riders,” Mr. Smith told NJ.com. “The onboard surveillance systems are also a deterrent for crime and unruly behavior.”

“The video and audio captured … is utilized by the New Jersey Transit Police Department and is an indispensable investigatory tool for them,” he added.

But as NJ Transit finishes outfitting its fleet with surveillance gear, privacy proponents are calling foul over a system they say is recording too much information with too little explanation.

Around $750,000 has already been spent on equipping every train on the River Line from Trenton to Camden with devices capable of recording audio and video, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has contributed $1.9 million toward outfitting cars on the Hudson-Bergen and Newark lights, Mr. Smith said.

Yet while all River Line cars have signs acknowledging the audio and video recorders in place, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers President Len Resto told NJ.com that the Garden State should be more upfront.

“People take it in stride,” Mr. Resto said of video recorders. “The audio recording, people have a real problem with. A lot of conversations should be private.”

“The sign should say more,” he added. “It should say it’s on 24/7. It should state what it is.”

NJ.com said the transit system has yet to establish policies that govern the data collected by train recorders, raising questions about how long audio and video information is stored, as well as who has access to it.

“You expect some privacy. You don’t have it if you are yelling across the car. If you’re sitting next to a person and talking to them and you don’t know there is a microphone picking up your conversation, our laws say you have a right to a private conversation,” Ed Barocas, legal director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, told the website.

“There are concerns whenever the government is gathering information about us and that includes audio and video,” he added. “There are laws in New Jersey about audio taping conversation and there are concerns about how the government uses it, who has access to it and how long they keep it.”

While New Jersey is hardly the only locale to install surveillance recorders within its transit systems, its undoubtedly among the largest: Combined, the transit system’s three light rail lines served an average of 75,253 riders per day during 2015, and 22.5 million passenger annually, according to its own data.

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