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NJ TRANSIT Defends Recording Conversations On Light Rail Lines

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The director of NJ TRANSIT on Tuesday defended the use of audio surveillance systems on some of its trains Tuesday, as some questioned the monitoring's legal and ethical underpinnings.

Audio and video recording currently is in use on the River Line between Trenton and Camden and will be in use on similar light rail trains in Newark and in Hudson County, NJ TRANSIT said Tuesday.

Interim Executive Director Dennis Martin, who will be replaced by a new executive director in two weeks, said the agency is using whatever tools at its disposal to "deter criminal activity" and keep passengers safe, citing global terror attacks.

"In light of terrorist attacks on mass transit facilities around the world, New Jersey Transit is availing itself of the latest technology to deter that, always keeping in mind the privacy rights of our customers," he said.

Martin declined to answer questions about how the audio data are stored and for how long, who reviews it and how it is disposed of. He only added that "there are laws that govern that and we're in compliance."

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has raised questions about the monitoring, though it has not formally challenged it.

"There are laws that say you can't surveil conversations that you aren't a part of, when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy," said Ed Barocas, ACLU New Jersey legal director. "If you get a call from your doctor or from children or a spouse and you look for an isolated area of the train where you no one can hear you, you don't expect the government to be listening in."

The President of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers called the practice a slippery slope on Monday.

"Before going through with something like this NJ Transit ought to survey ridership to determine if they're okay with it," Len Resto said.

Speaking Monday to CBS2's Meg Baker, riders at Broad Street in Newark questioned whether safety was worth giving up some of their privacy.

"I feel like it's an invasion of privacy on conversations with someone. They can hear it, and I don't know why they want to hear it," Felix Pagan said.

"I mean come on, you've got people making terroristic threats, you got people, criminal activity, plotting things. It's not an invasion of privacy because you are in a public place," Byron Huart said.

An NJ TRANSIT spokeswoman said the agency has no plans to put audio and video monitoring on its heavy rail lines. NJ TRANSIT buses are equipped with audio and video surveillance systems but those either have to be activated by the driver or are activated by a collision, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Barocas was skeptical of the utility of monitoring potentially thousands of conversations to combat terrorism.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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