Big Brother’s watching, but it’s for your own good

T officials said the cameras also help them track down graffiti artists who have branded tunnel walls with their urban art.

They are subtle, so it’s easy to forget they are even there, but Boston’s public transportation system is riddled with thousands of cameras.

But don’t worry – they are not meant to catch you blowing your nose or adjusting your zipper. These cameras are aimed at keeping riders safe, which is why MBTA officials are kicking up the effort to add more to the pack.

Over the next two to three years, the MBTA will install a “significant” amount of surveillance cameras throughout the system to help them fight crime, and solve fire and accident investigations.

“We’ve seen some very good success with the cameras since they first began to come online,” said Randy Clarke, the MBTA’s Director of Security Initiatives, who is heading up the camera expansion.
“As technology continues to improve and upgrades made, we’ll continue to see higher quality video,” Clarke said, quickly pointing to the recent stabbing of a woman at Ashmont station.  T officials released to the public a surveillance image of the suspect, and he was arrested shortly after.

About 15 projects are in the works to add more cameras at stations like Park Street and Downtown Crossing.

Transit police said they welcome the extra sets of eyes, but the added surveillance begs the question: “Does Big Brother bother commuters?”

MBTA officials say no.

“People recognize the importance of safety on transit. I think we’ve been able to display to the public the reasons that we have the cameras and the positive impact they’ve had on public safety,” said MBTA Superintendent-in-Chief Joseph O’Connor. “Very rarely do we receive negative feedback from the community regarding the surveillance cameras. It’s just the opposite; we are getting more and more requests for them.”

Customers also have a greater say now in monitoring their transit system.

The MBTA recently updated its policy to make it clear to riders that taking photos and videos within the transit system is allowed, thereby making it easier for riders to give officials a boost on monitoring what goes on.

“We have now recognized the ability of the public to take pictures is an asset to safety on MBTA, and actually now had a number of incidents where people have taken pictures and sent them to the MBTA, and crimes have been solved because of that,” said Clark said.

Clarke said the update comes after a period, post-September 11, when T officials cracked down on taking photos within the system. The concern was over terrorists casing the infrastructure.

Riders can now take photos as they please as long as it doesn’t “interfere with transportation activity while taking Images.” They also can’t snap any photos in “restricted areas” that are not open to the public.

O’Connor said that in the past, officials had gotten criticism from customers about the old photo restrictions.


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