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Google Glass-wearing movie patron questioned by Homeland Security agents as potential pirate

Google Glass-wearing movie patron questioned by Homeland Security agents as potential pirate

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Google Glass (STOCK)
Google Glass (STOCK)

Wearing Google Glass recently proved perilous for a movie patron in Columbus, Ohio. On Monday, The Gadgeteer posted a frightening story apparently from a member of the Glass Explorer program. An hour into watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit wearing his prescription version of Glass, he said, he'd been abruptly pulled from the theater and interrogated at length by "feds," who accused him of attempting to pirate the movie by recording it.

What followed was over an hour of the "feds" telling me I am not under arrest, and that this is a "voluntary interview", but if I choose not to cooperate bad things may happen to me (is it legal for authorities to threaten people like that?). [...] They wanted to know who I am, where I live, where I work, how much I’m making, how many computers I have at home, why am I recording the movie, who am I going to give the recording to, why don’t I just give up the guy up the chain, ’cause they are not interested in me. Over and over and over again.

After going through the photos on his device, the man says, the officers concluded that there'd been a misunderstanding, and theater owner AMC called a man from the "Movie Association," who gave him free passes to see the film again. But the man described himself as shaken by the incident, especially because he'd worn Glass to the theater before and had no trouble. The story initially seemed too dramatic to be true, but both AMC and the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division have confirmed it. Here's what AMC public relations director Ryan Noonan told The Verge:

Movie theft is something we take very seriously, and our theater managers contact the Motion Picture Association of America any time it's suspected that someone may be illegally recording content on screen. 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. The investigation determined the guest was not recording content.

"Movie theft is something we take very seriously."

While the man initially described the people who interviewed him as FBI agents, they're believed to have actually come from ICE, which has the authority to go after counterfeiters and movie pirates. ICE spokesperson Khaalid Walls gave the following statement, issued to the The Washington Post and other outlets:

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 eyeglasses in which the recording function had been inactive. No further action was taken.

Movie "camming" has become a huge focus in the past few years, with theaters monitoring patrons for cameras or microphones. A man convicted of helping record films in theaters and release them online received a 40-month jail sentence in 2012. While you can get around Glass' recording limits with some hacking, though, it's hardly designed for long-term recording, and if the glasses were prescription lenses fitted with the Glass device, the man didn't just leave them on for aesthetics or convenience. "I didn't even think about wearing my old pair of glasses to the movie, and I didn't have my old glasses with me," he told Phandroid in a followup interview. "I always carry an 'emergency pair' in my car, but the car was in the parking lot."

He also says theater employees had asked about his glasses in the past and never complained about him wearing them or asked him to take them off. Instead, he describes agents roughly yanking the glasses off his face during the film and five to ten cops and security guards waiting outside the theater, though ICE didn't immediately respond to a request to confirm these details. There are still some questions about the case, including who's giving a more accurate picture of the questioning and why nobody at the theater seems to have complained during previous visits, but what we know points to another case of wearable tech outpacing social norms — and, in this case, law enforcement. As the Glass user base expands, we may well see patrons being asked to prove that they've turned off their glasses as well as their cellphones.

Update: MPAA spokesperson TJ Ducklo has also weighed in, agreeing that Glass doesn't seem like a piracy risk.

Google Glass is an incredible innovation in the mobile sphere, and we have seen no proof that it is currently a significant threat that could result in content theft. The MPAA works closely with theaters all over the country to curb camcording and theater-originated piracy, and in this particular case, no such activity was discovered.