A screengrab from “People Staring at Computers” (Image from Vimeo/Ryan McDonald)

“I thought maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we’re using them,” he told Mashable.

So the 25-year-old artist installed a program on computers in two New York Apple Store locations that would automatically take a photo every minute of whoever was standing in front of the computer. McDonald then uploaded the photos to his Tumblr blog, “People Staring at Computers,” made a video with the photographs, and set up “an exhibition” at the Apple stores to show what he had found.

Within days, the Secret Service, which investigates computer crimes, had raided McDonald’s house, seizing his two laptops, two flash drives and iPod.

What had McDonald done wrong?

McDonald protested that he had gotten the permission of a security guard to take photos in the stores, that he had asked several customers for permission to take their photos (though certainly not all of them), and that taking photos of people in a public place is mostly allowed anyway.

But a tweet by McDonald indicates the Secret Service raided his apartment for a different crime:

warrant says http://t.co/2a3yH8N violates 18 USC section 1030. if you’re familiar w this law, contact me. i just asked @EFF for advice too.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyKyle McDonald

The “18 USC section 1030,” as McDonald refers to it, is a law that pertains to fraud and related activity in connection with computers. McDonald is likely in hot water for “exceeding authorized access” on a computer without authorization.

It seems slightly suspect that McDonald would be taken to task for breaking a law that normally applies to matters of national defense or finance fraud. McDonald, who has a master’s degree in electronic arts, says that while he understands that the project may make some people uncomfortable, he doesn’t believe he has broken any laws.

He’s currently consulting with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends civil liberties online, about his rights. We’ll see what they have to say.

Watch the video that came out of McDonald’s photos below: