John A. Steakely

Attorney John Steakley is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He began his career as the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes for a multi-county, multi-agency drug task force in Tennessee, where he represented the State of Tennessee in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases in a 5-county judicial district.

Public Buses in Athens Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations


Do you ride a public bus in Athens? If you do, watch what you say. Big Brother is watching and listening to you:

The systems use cables or WiFi to pair audio conversations with camera images in order to produce synchronous recordings. Audio and video can be monitored in real-time, but are also stored onboard in blackbox-like devices, generally for 30 days, for later retrieval. Four to six cameras with mics are generally installed throughout a bus, including one near the driver and one on the exterior of the bus.  

Cities that have installed the systems or have taken steps to procure them include San Francisco, California; Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; and Athens, Georgia.

 The Katz case from the 1960’s held that a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” even in a public telephone booth. (Yes, telephones used to be in booths, kids.) I wonder whether a court would hold a similar expectation of privacy in a public bus. Let’s say two people are sitting in the back of an otherwise empty bus discussing their campaign plans to run against a local Chief of Police. Can the local Chief listen in on their plans?

UPDATE:  As Andrew Fleischman reports, there are problems with recording public buses.

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