TRANSIT: NJ Transit eavesdropping on its patrons in the name of safety

April 11, 2016

Video and audio surveillance systems designed to make riders more secure are also recording the conversations of light rail passengers at all times.

NJ Transit officials say the on-board cameras and audio surveillance systems aboard their railcars are needed to fight crime and maintain security. They are also constantly recording, thus the casual conversations of all transit patrons are a matter of digital record.

"People take it in stride," said Len Resto, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers president, of the video recording. "The audio recording, however, people have a real problem with. A lot of conversations should be private."

NJ Transit is completing the installation of interior audio and video surveillance systems on its light rail fleet, said spokesman Jim Smith. In the agency's last commuter survey, riders gave security some of the highest rankings, however light rail riders indicated security could be improved.

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

"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," said Ed Barocas, legal director of the state American Civil Liberties Union.

Surveillance equipment cost $750,000 to install on River Line trains and the $1.9 million expense to install them on Hudson-Bergen and Newark light rail trains is funded by a federal Homeland Security grant.

Photo: Adam E. Moreira

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