Friday, May 11, 2012

State Senate Committee Votes Down Unrestricted Audio Recording In Taxicabs, Cites Privacy As Issue. (Full Meeting on Video). By John Han.

Part 1 of 7
(Note:  At the end of this article are the remaining 6 video segments of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on SB 1534, held May 8, 2012, involving audio recording in taxicabs.  This is published here in the interest of public discourse and transparency.  Total viewing time is 92 minutes.)

The California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee said Tuesday that recording conversations inside of a taxicab violates constitutional rights to privacy.  

At its Tuesday, May 8, 2012 meeting, the Senate Committee voted 7-1 in favor of a statewide amendment that, if ultimately passed, would prohibit audio recording inside of taxicabs. 

The bill SB 1534, authored by Republican Senator Tom Harman, would have allowed cab companies and local governments such as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), to keep video and audio recordings in perpetuity, as to what happens in and around taxicabs, including conversations.  

Originally, Harman's bill would not have restricted cab companies or local governments from viewing the recordings anytime, and at will.  

But instead, the Senate Committee passed an amended version of SB 1534, that would prohibit audio recording inside of a taxicab, and calls for setting limits on how long cab companies and local governments could keep taxicab video records on file.  

The senators cited privacy as a major concern.  

The most vocal being Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, who sparred with San Francisco's DeSoto Cab president Hansu Kim over whether passengers would be forced to sacrifice privacy for taxis, if the cab company president got his way. 

"As a member of the public, if I want to get a cab to get from Point A to Point B, I have to surrender my Constitutional right to privacy in California under [our] Constitution," the senator said. 

To which Kim replied, "You do not, you do not have to surrender your constitutional right."

"Really?", Simitian retorted.  "Because I thought I just was told there was going to be a conversation recorder, that recorded my conversation for thirty minutes straight, and then kept it in perpetuity.  By any reasonable definition, that's a surrender of privacy."

Simitian added, "You may say I have a choice, but I don't have much of a choice if it turns out I want to get from Point A to Point B, and the taxicabs all use the same recording system."

Their was overwhelming concern from the Senate Committee that the proponents of monitoring taxi drivers offered little, if any, recommendations to the committee that might help balance people's unease of privacy. 

Senator Christine Kehoe (D- San Diego) said the Senate might be better served letting the bill die in committee, and then to tell the proponents of Harman's bill to, "come back with a more focused effort."

"I see this as an over-reach," the Senator said.  "You just want to sweep in and make sure that you're not doing anything illegal anymore, even though we're not really sure where the lines are being drawn."

The senator added to the proponents of the bill that the bill, "needs to be cleaned up a whole lot".  

Tuesday's May 8, 2012 vote may be seen as a victory for privacy advocates.   Other amendments to the bill that were passed include - 

  • Allowing only law enforcement to review the video recorded, and only for public safety purposes, including investigation of a crime.
  • Permits a taxi driver to turn off the video recorder and permits a taxi driver to request unedited copies of recordings.  (This author's opinion is that this is because taxi drivers are classified "independent contractors" rather than "employees" of cab companies.)
  • Require posting of a notice on the inside and the outside of the taxicab to inform passengers that their conversations inside the taxi are recorded.  (This amendment may be moot, since the Senate Committee later amended the bill to prohibit audio recording.)

The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee passed the bill with amendments, then referred it to the Senate Rules Committee with a recommendation to be sent to Judiciary Committee.

Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Meeting: Vote on SB 1534, May 8, 2012, (covering audio recording in taxicabs).

Video Clips of Full Meeting

Part 2 of 7
Part 3 of 7
Part 4 of 7
Part 5 of 7
Part 6 of 7
Part 7 of 7

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