Privacy SOS

Today in WTF: MBTA gives embarrassing video of woman’s fall to the press

Someone's brief embarrassing misfortune is now a national story, thanks to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA).

"Boston Woman on Scooter Has Escalator Spill"

"New MBTA cameras catch woman falling off motorized wheelchair"

"Woman flips scooter on 'up' escalator"

These are press clippings from the MBTA's bizarrely proud release of a video, captured by their new surveillance cameras, that shows a woman entering an escalator in a wheelchair and then flipping over backwards, getting caught under the chair as the escalator continues to move beneath her. 

Ouch.

(I'm not going to embed the video because it's humiliating. It goes to show you how omnipresent government surveillance impinges on our basic dignity as human beings.)

Why on earth would the MBTA release this video to the public? And why would it assume that doing so bolsters its credibility vis a vis the utility of their expansive surveillance system, even in the slightest bit? 

We don't know the answers to these questions or to many others, and so we need to shine a light on government surveillance. We know very little about how the MBTA's camera system works and about what checks and balances are in place — if any — to prevent this kind of abuse or worse.

Who watched that tape? Who made the decision to publicize it? Will that person be reprimanded? Is there any MBTA policy that dictates when and in what circumstances footage may be copied and released to the press? Are there any privacy protections in place to ensure that this doesn't happen on a whim?

The video is pretty embarrassing, and demonstrates that the near ubiquitous surveillance cameras that surround us the moment we leave our homes in the morning possess great power.

The MBTA wants us to trust that it has our best interests at heart, even as it won't engage with us or be transparent about how the system works, and then it offers us an embarrassing blooper reel as evidence that the cameras are needed?

I don't know about you, but if I tripped and fell down the escalator, I really wouldn't want the state to release the footage to the press. What were you thinking, MBTA?

Read more about the MBTA's new cameras.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.