A Google Glass user in Ohio has run into an unexpected consequence of wearing a camera on your face at all times: Movie theaters might suspect you of piracy. Homeland Security agents pulled the man from the movie and interviewed him aggressively, though no charges ended up being filed. But is it really a surprise?
The Glass user, who has not given his name, contacted tech blog The Gadgeteer with his story over the weekend, but it wasn't until Tuesday that the full tale was revealed.
He and his wife had bought tickets to see "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" at a mall theater on Jan. 18, and he wore his Google Glass set — with prescription lenses. About an hour into the film, they were approached by someone claiming to be a federal agent. As the user phrased it:
A guy comes near my seat, shoves a badge that had some sort of a shield on it, yanks the Google Glass off my face and says "follow me outside immediately". It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops.
He goes on to say that the agent told him he had "been caught illegally taping the movie," then ushered him and his wife into separate rooms in the mall's administrative area. Although the ensuing interview was described as "voluntary," it was suggested that not cooperating could result in "bad things" happening.
Federal agents questioned the man about whom he reported to, how much money he made and other things relating to the alleged piracy. But when they finally brought in a laptop and cable to check the contents of the man's Glass and phone, they found nothing incriminating and turned him loose.
Early reports suggested it was the FBI that had pulled him aside, but the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (part of DHS) issued a statement Tuesday at least partially clearing things up. Here it is in full:
On Jan. 18, special agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and local authorities briefly interviewed a man suspected of using an electronic recording device to record a film at an AMC theater in Columbus. The man, who voluntarily answered questions, confirmed to authorities that the suspected recording device was also a pair of prescription eye glasses in which the recording function had been inactive. No further action was taken.
An ICE representative confirmed on the phone to NBC News that the man was not detained, and would have been free to go should he have chosen to do so.
NBC News asked how often these "voluntary interviews" take place and how long they usually last. The ICE representative said he would look into that question. We will update this article with any further information provided by ICE.
AMC Theaters too offered a statement about the incident:
While we're huge fans of technology and innovation, wearing a device that has the capability to record video is not appropriate at the movie theatre. At AMC Easton 30 last weekend, a guest was questioned for possible movie theft after he was identified wearing a recording device during a film. The presence of this recording device prompted an investigation by the MPAA, which was on site. The MPAA then contacted Homeland Security, which oversees movie theft.
Why and how the Motion Picture Association of America would be "on site" at an ordinary movie theater at 10 PM is not clear, and AMC has not responded to requests for clarification.
It is, of course, illegal to shoot videos of movies in theaters, and one might think it would be common sense not to bring a wearable camera into one. But involving a dozen police and DHS agents also seems over the top for what was just a misunderstanding of how this particular gadget works. Both parties should probably be more aware of the limits and risks of wearable tech.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.