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Cameras In Taxis: Driver Security, Or Monitoring With Impunity?

As I write this, I'm recalling a particularly entertaining cab ride I took a couple of years ago at the January Consumer Electronics Show, from the airport to my hotel at the beginning of the week. I pointed out what looked like a camera installed in the rear-view mirror, and the driver confirmed that my suspicion was correct. Thus began the rant...

As you'll see if you click on the above link and read the mid-2005 article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the folks behind the steering wheels do not wholeheartedly welcome the cameras (whose images in some cases periodically auto-upload to a server over a cellular data link, and in other situations are "dumped" to the server each time the taxi returns to the employee facilities). Granted, the mirror-mounted gear seems to have reduced crime against taxi cab drivers. But rightly or wrongly, the drivers also believe they're being monitored by their employees for traffic infractions (which would seem to require camera locations other than that which exclusively captures the view of the taxi cabin interior...but I digress) and for interactions with passengers that might be seen as unprofessional or otherwise undesirable (I'll let your imaginations kick in at this point). To that point, some passengers are probably not pleased being visually perused, either...

Further complicating the matter, some (but apparently not all, from the article) taxi cab companies record not only video but also associated audio (i.e. conversations). Now toss in a few other sensors and other technologies that many of us are already familiar with—GPS subsystems, for example, and silicon accelerometers, gyroscopes, and compasses—and you can see how a company could easily garner comprehensive employee monitoring capabilities, including analytics processing that generates auto-alerts when something's amiss. Driver protests aside, the embedded vision feature is steadily spreading beyond Las Vegas to other U.S. locales and even "across the Pond"; as this recent Slashdot coverage notes, Oxford's City Council has proposed mandating camera installations in taxis by 2015.