A recent announcement by a local transit authority in Virginia sheds light on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are building a massive, intrusive surveillance network built on America’s transportation system.
The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) recently announced plans to install more than 100 live surveillance cameras at stops along a rapid transit line. According to a WTVR report, GRTC plans to install approximately four cameras at 26 Pulse stops along Broad Street. The system will be live 24 hours a day and directly connected to the city’s 911 facility.
The ACLU of Virginia opposes the system. The organization’s director of strategic communications said constant monitoring changes the nature of a community.
“There’s very little evidence that this type of surveillance enhances public safety, and there is every reason to think that it inhibits people. That it causes us to behave differently than we would if we weren’t being watched,” Bill Farrar said, adding that the system will “keep tabs” on people who rely on public transit.
“GRTC has said in promoting this, in promoting the need for this particular line, we want to help people get out of the East End food desert. So we’re saying use this to get the food that you need, but we’re going to watch you while you do it.
GRTC Pulse is “a modern, high quality, high capacity rapid transit system serving a 7.6-mile route.” It was developed through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the City of Richmond and Henrico County.
According to Style Weekly, “this new system will bring the total number of easily accessible, city or government-owned cameras available to police and other authorities to more than 300, including roughly 200 stationary cameras Richmond police already have easy access to, and 32 cameras owned by city police.”
Farrar called the proliferation of cameras in the city “troubling.”
“In practice, the use of these systems and the data they collect is almost always expanded, giving law enforcement more information than they need or should have about the personal lives of law-abiding people.”
According to WTVR, the federal government required the installation of surveillance cameras along the new transit route as a condition of funding the project.
“Officials said the federal TIGER grant used to fund the half of the project required the installation of the camera system.”
This spotlights how the federal government uses funding to incentivize state and local agencies to participate in the expansion of a national surveillance state. Not only do they attach strings to project funding such as this camera requirement in Richmond, they also finance many state and local surveillance programs outright.
State and local agencies have access to a mind-boggling array of surveillance equipment. The federal government offers grants and other funding sources for this spy-gear. By tapping into federal money, law enforcement agencies can sometimes even keep purchases of surveillance technology “off the books.”
In other words, they can purchase high-tech surveillance equipment without any local government or public oversight. In fact, city councils, county governments and mayors may not even know police have obtained the equipment. This makes it difficult to determine just how expansive the American surveillance state has become.
When reports come out such as the recent revelation of Richmond’s transit stop cameras, it cracks open the door and allows us to see just how the feds work with state and local agencies to expand its massive surveillance network.
In this case, it reveals that the federal government is piggybacking onto the transportation system to spy on Americans.