Days after a California driver escaped a traffic conviction over wearing Google Glass behind the wheel, the search company's augmented-reality device is once again testing the law. On Saturday, an Ohio man was detained for several hours by federal agents who suspected him of recording "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" in his local movie theater using Glass's video function.
"About an hour into the movie," Columbus-based Tiberiu Ungureanu told The Gadgeteer, "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.'"
What followed was a lengthy interview that ended only when Ungureanu convinced an agent to search his device for evidence of the offending footage. There was none.
While Ungureanu initially suspected his interrogators to be officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they later turned out to be agents from the Department of Homeland Security — specifically, from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, which deals with international piracy cases in collaboration with the movie industry. In this case, officials from the Motion Picture Association of America, who were already at the theater, contacted ICE when they learned that someone was in the audience with a recording device.
"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," Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, told The Washington Post on Tuesday. "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."
ICE has taken a prominent role in Washington's global anti-piracy efforts, even going so far as to publish a public service announcement on YouTube and linking to it from various file sharing domains that it's seized.
In confirming the FBI's non-involvement in Ungureanu's detention, an agency spokesman added that Ungureanu actually works with the FBI on occasion.
"Incidentally, we have a positive relationship with the person involved, and they contacted us," said Todd Lindgren, an FBI public affairs officer based in Cincinnati. "He's a routine liaison who works in the cyber field, and some of our cyber agents had a relationship with the guy."
The MPAA did not immediately respond to calls and an e-mail requesting comment. Nor did Ungureanu himself.
"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 theater," said Ryan Noonan, a spokesman for AMC.
The incident offers a teaser for the kind of legal troubles Glass could cause not just on the highways but in other public settings where electronics are prohibited. It also suggests a privacy paradox for Glass users in that, to absolve themselves of suspicion might require consenting to a search, one that could lead authorities to dig through sensitive or personal data. And while the issue of warrantless device searches has reached the Supreme Court, whatever ruling comes down will apply only to cellphones. Google Glass users will likely have a lot more experiences like Ungureanu's before they get anything resembling legal clarity.
Update: In an e-mailed statement, the MPAA tells me it doesn't find Google Glass objectionable — yet. "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."