Sound Transit wants to Install AI Cameras

Link light rail stations and garages would use new surveillance equipment

NEWS

By George Howland Jr.

In the first quarter of the next year, Sound Transit security staff will ask the Sound Transit Board of Directors to take the first step in installing artificial intelligence (AI) cameras throughout its Link light rail system of stations and garages. The Sound Transit Board of Directors will be asked to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) from private vendors for the initial $979,200 purchase of the AI technology. There are no public meetings or public outreach planned in connection with this decision, according to John Gallagher, Sound Transit spokesperson. Branden Porter, Sound Transit’s System Security Manager, states the objective of the AI cameras is to save over $1 million per year in security costs. Sound Transit’s Gallagher stresses, “We’re not using these [cameras] in any way for facial recognition.”

Critics are not mollified by the promise. Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Project Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-WA), says, the use of AI cameras would force “people to choose between privacy and transit.” This controversy comes on the heels of Sound Transit, last month, releasing data that shows its fare enforcement results in disproportionate citations for African Americans (first reported by Erica C. Barnett and then The Seattle Times).

Voters in a tri-county region (roughly approximating King, Snohomish and Pierce counties) have approved an ambitious expansion plan of Sound Transit’s light-rail, express-bus and heavy-rail transit services. Sound Transit’s current light rail is 22 miles long and runs from the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium to Angle Lake, just south of Sea-Tac Airport. By 2041, Sound Transit plans to expand light raid north to Everett, south to the Tacoma Dome and east to Issaquah. There are also two planned expansions in the city of Seattle itself: one to West Seattle and the other to Ballard. Recently, statewide voter approval of Initiative 976 put Sound Transit’s funding into doubt. Currently, I-976 is facing a court challenge.

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