Monday, May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024

Viewpoint: Surveillance cameras on buses alarming


As many of you are aware, the local bus fleet is being renewed. What you may not have noticed is that the new buses are equipped with surveillance cameras.

To my knowledge, these cameras were not installed because anyone from Salt Spring asked for them. They are a gift from BC Transit.

In the past, camera surveillance was passive. We have become accustomed to cameras recording our actions in public spaces. Typically, unless something out of the ordinary occurs, no one is actually watching these cameras. Even so, it is important to be aware when you are on camera lest you behave in some manner that could haunt you, were it to blow up 10 years later on social media.

These days, technology exists to actively monitor cameras in real time. Now the camera is not just recording. Someone may very well be watching. Of course the entities that are increasingly spying on us are not human. They can be powered by AI. Consequently, there is no labour cost in mass surveillance and very little to inhibit those who wish to abuse the technology to monitor our every action.

Big Brother is not only watching. Big Brother is capable of knowing your identity the moment you step on the bus and can instantly correlate this to everything else that is known about you: where you live, who your friends are, which causes you support financially and what kinds of websites you frequent. To some this may sound far-fetched, but the technology exists and is very much in use. There are cities where cameras are so ubiquitous that citizens’ whereabouts are known at all times.

I’m not suggesting that BC Transit has nefarious intent. The concept of cameras on buses is nothing new. From a BC Transit perspective, this is purely a safety measure. Some will be able to accept this and possibly even welcome the new cameras. Personally, I reject the notion that surveillance culture makes us safer. I feel decidedly less safe on a bus that is equipped with camera surveillance.

The bus is a public space. If we are going to install cameras in public spaces where previously there were none, then citizens ought to be made aware of the change before it happens. There ought to be public consultation.

Big Brother is no longer science fiction. Everything Orwell wrote about in 1948 has now come to pass. BC Transit is an extension of the B.C. government – a government that has become increasingly totalitarian in its ways. I would argue that given what we know about AI surveillance technology, what it is capable of and how it is already being used elsewhere in the world, we ought to be careful about welcoming more surveillance into our public spaces. I would rather we look towards finding ways of reducing the number of cameras that spy on us all day long, rather than bringing in new cameras in places where they are not needed.

The erosion of freedom is incremental. If we as a community embrace more cameras in public spaces we may not be able to get rid of them, should it become apparent that the technology is oppressive rather than freeing. For those who may see these cameras as a bad idea, the time to be heard is now.

Michael Hey is a bus driver on Salt Spring Island

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  1. As a woman who has been harassed in the past on transit and nothing could be done due to lack of footage, I am all for the cameras. I think the idea of “big brother watching” on transit is a little dense to say the least. If you are that worried about “big brother” watching you on transit, I think you might want to rethink going to grocery stories, libraries, taxi services, ambulances, and more. Also I think it’s a great way to keep our drivers safe. Just my opinion.


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