Queensland cab conversations to be recorded

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Australian taxi

State officials in Queensland, Australia, have begun working on a draft protocol to use security cameras to record conversations in taxis. The new draft proposes to change a current policy which allows for cameras in taxis which do not record sound for privacy reasons, in the hope that audio recordings will make some investigations easier.

The paper, which says audio recordings would "provide greater certainty with regard to investigations, particularly in situation of conflicting statements," is currently at the Transport and Main Roads department. The proposal also suggests extending the time taxi companies can keep recordings downloaded from security cameras from the current 30–35 days.

The chairman of one taxi company said the proposed measure would increase the safety of his drivers. "In 2006 the government introduced the security cameras and most cabs now have GPS units," he said. "What we've got now is an improvement over having nothing at all and as a result there has been a fair improvement in the reduction of assaults on taxi drivers."

Queensland Taxi Advisers Incorporated, a union of taxi operators, said they supported the introduction of audio recording because it would create "greater transparency and certainty in investigations where there were conflicting statements from drivers and passengers."

To address privacy concerns, the paper proposes to add stickers to the entry points at the taxis. The text will read, "Security cameras and microphones fitted. You will be photographed. Conversations will be recorded". However, the legislation draft has met opposition from some. Scott Emerson, a spokesperson for the Liberal National Party of Queensland, objected to the measure on privacy grounds. "We need to know how these recordings are going to be used," he said. "Who's going to have access to them?"

Michael Cope, the president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties said he opposed the measure because the recordings might be used by taxi companies in civil cases concerning driver complaints. "We're swapping from saying it's about safety to saying it's about setting fare disputes," he said. "We don't think that justifies collecting ... intensely personal information that audio recordings collect."

Queensland's privacy commissioner Linda Matthews reacted said the recordings would be used for genuine law enforcement purposes. Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland's Transport Minister, said the ideas within the proposal would be heavily considered before being implemented. She said: "If people think it's a good idea then we go to full consultation. I would be meeting with the privacy commissioner, I'd be meeting with the taxi industry, I'd be consulting with members of the public in a much more formal way."