Google Glass User Detained By Feds Talks About Ordeal

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While some businesses are banning the high-tech wearable device Google Glass, a theatre owner in Columbus, Ohio, saw enough of a threat to call the Department of Homeland Security. The manager called in unnamed Homeland Security agents to remove a Balkan programmer who was wearing Google Glass connected to his prescription lenses. The agents and mall police interrogated the Glass-wearer for hours.

The programmer has asked that we not reveal his name. “I am trying to limit my ‘celebrity,'” he said. He has special prescription lenses inserted into his device and wears them almost all the time. He is a Balkan immigrant and is working towards citizenship. He graduated from Ohio State University and now works as a network engineer.

According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch by reporter Allison Manning, the 35-year-old Glass-wearer was watching Jack Ryan when someone with a badge sat down next to him and asked him to come outside. In the lobby, he was met by additional agents who questioned him for hours. It wasn’t until they brought in a laptop and USB cable to connect the Glass to a PC that they were finally convinced he wasn’t recording the movie.

“About an hour into the movie, 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,” he told The Gadgeteer. “It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops.” The agents accused him of illegally taping the movie with his Glass even though it was off.

Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email to the Dispatch that ICE Homeland Security Investigations “briefly interviewed a man suspected of using an electronic recording device to record a film.” Interestingly, this department is also responsible for “combatting piracy and counterfeit goods.”

I spoke to the programmer today about his ordeal and how he feels about Glass. He was relieved it all came out fine. For his trouble, the AMC Theater at Easton Town Center offered four free passes to a movie of his choice.

TC: Why do you wear Glass?

Programmer: I wear Glass because I like it. It has so many features and so much potential! For example, there is an app for Glass built to watch you while driving and — if it detects you doze off — to try to wake you up and give you directions to the closest rest stop. I also like Glass because it is based on an open-source system (as opposed to closed-source Windows), and I feel it actually gives users a choice (as opposed to Apple products who I feel have the philosophy of “We’re going to tell you what you like and you will buy it at inflated prices”).

TC: Great. Making friends right off the bat. Do you have any other wearables?

P: I don’t have any other wearables.

TC: Why did you wear it in the movie?

P: I wore it during the movie because I was an ignorant idiot. I seldom use the camera of any device for taking pictures (I have a Cannon 6D I use for pictures), so I didn’t even think about its existence. As a matter of fact, the camera of Glass is the least interesting feature Glass has. I got Glass in November (just after Thanksgiving), and it took me a while until I found somebody to make me a prescription lens for it, but after I got the prescription at the beginning of January, I started wearing Glass all the time as my regular glasses (with enhanced reality feature). As I don’t actively think about pirating movies, it didn’t cross my mind that Glass could be seen as a pirating device.

Also, it wasn’t the first time I wore Glass in that theatre, a week before the incident I was wearing Glass when I saw Saving Mr. Banks, and nobody said anything about it. Even before that I’ve seen another movie wearing Glass with no issues. Plus, AMC employees (among many other people) previously asked me “Wow, man! Is that Google Glass? How is it?” and I would always give them a nice review about what it can do.

TC: So now what? Are you angry? What do you want people to understand about your experience?

P: As any new technology, it is expected people don’t understand it quickly. After reading the story on The Gadgeteer or many other sites that reposted it from there, many have advised me to sue AMC and/or DHS. I am not planning to do that. I would love to have the chance to talk to the management of AMC, Regal and other movie theater chains and show them what Glass is and what it isn’t. As people take their camera phones in the theater and turn them off, people should turn off Glass in the theater should they choose to bring it in. And in time, as this product will be known better, people will freak out less. It’s just a matter of a learning curve.

TC: What did you think when they took you out of the movie?

P: As I was taken out of the theater – the DHS agent had my Glass because he snatched it off my face – I started shaking and I was thinking I should call the police. Outside the theater when they asked me for the first time why was I recording the movie I realized it was a misunderstanding and I wanted to clear it as soon as possible. I unsuccessfully tried for a couple of hours to convince them to connect Glass to a computer or put it on their face and check, and when they finally did so they realized I wasn’t doing anything illegal and let me be and left.

TC: Do you think you were profiled?

P: There was no profiling component. Just overzealous agents thinking they were doing their job. Not only [do] I have an accent, one of the first things I told them trying to reason with them was that I am an immigrant, I have a green card and I don’t want to do anything that could potentially jeopardize my chances of citizenship. Funny they were from ICE and they completely discarded this argument (at the time I was convinced they were FBI – I told them I worked with FBI in the past. I told them the first name of the agent I worked with, and they knew his last name, and that convinced me that when they said they were “federal agents” they meant FBI). When we got to the “interview room” the first two documents I showed them were my driver’s license and my green card. So there is no doubt they knew I was an immigrant.

However, I don’t believe they were profiling. They couldn’t have known I am an immigrant prior to them snatching me.

TC: What’s next for you and Glass? Where do you go from here?

P: Next it’s only more efforts to educate people about technology. I will keep wearing Glass all the time (maybe except at the movies), and as always, if anybody asks me about Glass I would let them try it on and give them a little demonstration on some of the capabilities of Glass. I signed up for Glass but I guess I also signed up for being harassed by authorities that are unfamiliar with the technology. Some hiccups are to be expected with any new advancement.

When I first talked about this, I thought I would accomplish two things: First, Glass users won’t be as ignorant as I was when going to the movies and, second, it would inspire people to educate the authorities more in regards to technology.

Glass users cannot record you without your knowledge even if they would want to. The little prism in front of Glass lights up when Glass is active (and by active I mean showing an email to the user, showing a text, weather forecast or stock prices, taking a picture or a video, or whatever Glass does).

TC: Are you angry?

P: Initially, Monday, I wanted to find out who they were (because I didn’t remember their names in the heat of the event) and write an angry letter to their supervisor but with all this press coverage they might be already in trouble. I don’t want them to lose their jobs, I just want them to think more. So I won’t do anything else.