Casual commuter conversations on light rail trains have an unexpected eavesdropper — NJ Transit.
Video and audio surveillance systems designed to make riders more secure are also recording the conversations of light rail passengers at all times.
NJ Transit officials say the on-board cameras and audio surveillance systems are needed to fight crime and maintain security.
Commuters generally don't have a problem with video surveillance, since they've come to expect it for safety and security reasons in a post 9/11 world, said Len Resto, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers president.
"People take it in stride," Resto said of video recording. "The audio recording, people have a real problem with. A lot of conversations should be private."
Surveillance equipment cost $750,000 to install on River Line trains and the $1.9 million expense to install them on Hudson-Bergen and Newark light rail trains is funded by a federal Homeland Security grant.
"The video and audio captured ... is utilized by the New Jersey Transit Police Department and is an indispensable investigatory tool for them," Smith said.
Theft is the most common crime reported on NJ Transit's three light rail systems. NJ Transit police statistics show 130 crimes were reported on the light rail system in 2015, up slightly from 123 crimes reported in 2014.
Smith declined to provide examples of cases where video from cameras were used to successfully prosecute a case, citing security protocols.
Smith declined to say what NJ Transit's policies are for storing surveillance recordings, who has access to them and whether they are destroyed after a certain period of time.Read More: NJ Transit is recording the conversations of thousands of its riders