Brighton buses accused of Big Brother bugging of drivers and passengers

No warning signs on buses could be a breach of data protection laws.
1 min read

The Brighton and Hove bus company has today been accused of potentially seriously breaching data protection laws and spying on passengers and drivers after the Unite trade union revealed it was secretly recording audio feeds on its bus network.

The bus company, part of the Go-Ahead Group, has installed audio recording equipment in drivers’ cabs on some buses under the auspices of protection for drivers in cases of verbal abuse. But the devices are also able to hear and record the conversations of passengers in areas close to the cab.

No warning signs are present on the buses, meaning passengers are completely unaware that their conversations may be being recorded. The devices were secretly installed without any consultation with the union and drivers did not know they were present. It is not known what is done with the recordings, who has access to them and how they are stored by Brighton and Hove buses. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is outrageous Big Brother-style behaviour from the bus company, who are secretly recording drivers and their passengers without warning.

“Such is the depth of anger over this our members are now discussing potential industrial action as the bus company has refused to discuss matters reasonably. Unite will be backing their cause 100 per cent of the way.”

Unite, on behalf of its members working as drivers for the bus company, have made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioners Office after its attempts to discuss the matter with Brighton and Hove bus company were ignored. The ICO governs the use of personal data in the UK and has the power to levy hefty fines on companies and organisations found in breach of data protection laws.

Unite is also now asking over 1,000 members at the bus company to take part in a consultative ballot on potential industrial action over the matter, such is the strength of ill-feeling this has created amongst the workforce. The use of audio recordings only came to light when a member of Brighton Bus Company management showed an audio commentary to a Unite rep during a disciplinary case involving a driver.

Unite regional officer Janet Nobbs said: “It is outrageous that Brighton and Hove buses have begun recording not only our members’ but also passengers’ conversations without their knowledge or consent. There are no warning signs on the buses and I think most of the public would be appalled to know that bus company executives could have access to private conversations. The bus company needs to explain itself – not just to Unite and the Brighton public but to the ICO as well.”

Ryan Fowler

Ryan Fowler is Publisher of Workplace Journal

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