Courtesy The Courier Mail – July 09, 2013

HUMAN Rights campaigners have criticised a Government move to allow taxi drivers to make audio recordings of passengers.

State Transport Minister Scott Emerson will introduce legislation next year in a move he says will improve safety.

It follows a 2005 move that saw video cameras in Queensland cabs.

But President of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties Michael Cope said audio recordings were not justified and were only being introduced as a ”debt collection” measure.

Speaking on ABC Radio this morning he said: “The issue is the collection of vast amounts of personal data without justification.

“The problem is there is no evidence to support the proposition that recording audio in taxi cabs would reduce assaults.

“We say it will be consistently used to collect fares and there is no other business that is allowed to use audio recordings to collect debts.

“Where does it stop?”

Mr Cope also suggested it was a concern that taxi drivers would have so much personal information about their passengers, including a phone number, address, picture and audio recording.

EVERY word uttered in a taxi will be recorded from next year despite the strong reservations of Queensland’s Privacy Commissioner.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson will introduce legislation to Parliament next month to allow audio recording in cabs in an effort to improve safety.

Although video cameras have been allowed in Queensland taxis since 2005, audio was not included for privacy reasons.

The first step towards changing that was taken by the former Labor Government in 2011 when a departmental discussion paper raised the prospect of recording audio in cabs.

Mr Emerson said capturing sound inside cabs would act as a further deterrent to assaults against taxi drivers and passengers.

“We won’t stand for attacks on taxi drivers, but audio recordings and cameras can deter and ensure additional evidence when a crime is committed,” he said.

He said the recording would be encrypted and stored on a hard drive in the taxi.

However, the recordings will be automatically overwritten after 72 hours, up from 32 hours currently allowable for the storage of video recordings.

“This Government is committed to providing all Queensland taxi drivers with a safe work environment however this must be balanced with passengers’ and taxi drivers’ right to privacy,” Mr Emerson said.

When first floated in 2011, then Privacy Commissioner Linda Matthews cast doubt on the proposal saying there would be “no such thing as an anonymous taxi ride” once the recordings were introduced.

Her concerns were echoed by current Commissioner Lemm Ex in a policy paper produced by TMR about the Taxi Security Camera Program.

In his responses, Mr Ex said there was a “consistent lack of evidence supporting the expansion of the current system throughout the discussion paper”.

“While the vast majority of conversations recorded will be of no use to the taxi industry, they will of course be of intense interest to someone,” Mr Ex said.

“While video surveillance in public spaces is commonplace, there are very few places that record audio also.

“The taxi records will be a potential ‘honey pot’ of otherwise unobtainable information for such diverse persons as marketers, employers, law enforcement agencies and of course, criminals.”

A spokesman for Minister Emerson said the Privacy Commissioner’s concerns had been noted.

Tuesday’s announcement follows a serious assault on a 64-year-old taxi driver at Hervey Bay and the theft of cabs at Woodridge and Redbank Plains in recent days.

Queensland Taxi Council CEO Benjamin Wash said the introduction of audio recording would bring Queensland cabs into line with safety innovations used across the world.

But most other states in Australia currently do not allow the capture of audio, except in a “distress situation” when an alarm automatically triggers the recording.

The Government is also tackling the problem of overcharging by cabbies, by making automated taximeters compulsory in Queensland from mid-2014.

Mr Emerson said the meters were already partly automated with tariffs and booking fees preset, but overcharging could occur if the driver deliberately or accidentally set the meter on an incorrect tariff.

“When taximeters are automated, all parts of the fare will be recorded on the meter and the passenger will only pay the price that’s displayed,” he said.

“This price will also be itemised into the various fare components on the trip receipt.”