AMC movie theater calls “federal agents” to arrest a Google Glass user



A long time Gadgeteer reader contacted me today through Google Hangouts to tell me that he had a story that he thought I’d be interested in reading. He then forwarded me a long email with a story from a very good friend of his. It was such a surprising story that I asked if I could have permission to post it here on The Gadgeteer. I ended up communicating with the author of the story and have posted it here for everyone to read…

I have been using Google Glass for about 2 months now, and about 2 weeks ago I got prescription lenses for the glasses. So in the past two weeks I was wearing Google Glass all the time. There were no stories to write about, until yesterday (1/18/2014).

I went to AMC (Easton Mall, Columbus, OH) to watch a movie with my wife (non- Google Glass user). It is the theater we go to every week, so it has probably been the third time I’ve been there wearing Google Glass, and the AMC employees (guy tearing tickets at the entrance, girl at the concession stand) have asked me about Glass in the past and I have told them how awesome Glass is with every occasion.

Because I don’t want Glass to distract me during the movie, I turn them off (but since my prescription lenses are on the frame, I still wear them). About an hour into the movie (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), 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. Since I didn’t catch his name in the dark of the theater, I asked to see his badge again and I asked what was the problem and I asked for my Glass back. The response was “you see all these cops you know we are legit, we are with the ‘federal service’ and you have been caught illegally taping the movie”.

I was surprised by this and as I was obviously just having a nice Saturday evening night out with my wife and not taping anything whether legally or illegally, I tried to explain that this is a misunderstanding. I tried to explain that he’s holding rather expensive hardware that costed me $1500 for Google Glass and over $600 for the prescription glasses. The response was that I was searched and more stuff was taken away from me (specifically my personal phone, my work phone – both of which were turned off, and my wallet). After an embarrassing 20-30 minutes outside the movie theater, me and my wife were conducted into two separate rooms in the “management” office of Easton Mall, where the guy with the badge introduced himself again and showed me a different ID. His partner introduced herself too and showed me a similar looking badge. I was by that time, too flustered to remember their names (as a matter of fact, now, over 30 hours later I am still shaking when recounting the facts).

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?). I kept telling them that Glass has a USB port and not only did I allow them, I actually insist they connect to it and see that there was nothing but personal photos with my wife and my dog on it. I also insisted they look at my phone too and clear things out, but they wanted to talk first. 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.

I kept telling them that I wasn’t recording anything – my Glass was off, they insisted they saw it on. I told them there would be a light coming out the little screen if Glass was on, and I could show them that, but they insisted that I cannot touch my Glass for the fear “I will erase the evidence against me that was on Glass”. I didn’t have the intuition to tell them that Glass gets really warm if it records for more than a few minutes and my glasses were not warm. They wanted to know where I got Glass and how did I came by having it. I told them I applied about 1000 times to get in the explorer program, and eventually I was selected, and I got the Glass from Google. I offered to show them receipt and Google Glass website if they would allow me to access any computer with internet. Of course, that was not an option. Then they wanted to know what does Google ask of me in exchange for Glass, how much is Google paying me, who is my boss and why am I recording the movie.

Eventually, after a long time somebody came with a laptop and an USB cable at which point he told me it was my last chance to come clean. I repeated for the hundredth time there is nothing to come clean about and this is a big misunderstanding so the FBI guy finally connected my Glass to the computer, downloaded all my personal photos and started going though them one by one (although they are dated and it was obvious there was nothing on my Glass that was from the time period they accused me of recording). Then they went through my phone, and 5 minutes later they concluded I had done nothing wrong.

I asked why didn’t they just take those five minutes at the beginning of the interrogation and they just left the room. A guy who claimed his name is Bob Hope (he gave me his business card) came in the room, and said he was with the Movie Association and they have problems with piracy at that specific theater and that specific movie. He gave me two free movie passes “so I can see the movie again”. I asked if they thought my Google Glass was such a big piracy machine, why didn’t they ask me not to wear them in the theater? I would have probably sat five or six rows closer to the screen (as I didn’t have any other pair of prescription glasses with me) and none of this would have happened. All he said was AMC called him, and he called the FBI and “here are two more passes for my troubles”. I would have been fine with “I’m sorry this happened, please accept our apologies”. Four free passes just infuriated me.

Considering it was 11:27pm when this happened, and the movie started at 7.45, I guess 3 and a half hours of my time and the scare my wife went through (who didn’t know what was going on as nobody bothered to tell her) is worth about 30 bucks in the eyes of the Movie Association and the federal militia (sorry, I cannot think of other derogatory words). I think I should sue them for this, but I don’t have the time or the energy to deal with “who is my boss – they don’t want me, they want the big guy” again, so I just spilled the beans on this forum, for other to learn from my experience.

I guess until people get more familiar with Google Glass and understand what they are, one should not wear them to the movies. I wish they would have said something before I went to the movies, but it may be my mistake for assuming that if I went and watched movies two times wearing Glass with no incident the third time there won’t be any incident either. As for the federal agents and their level of comprehension… I guess if they deal with petty criminals every day, everybody starts looking like a petty criminal. Again, I wish they would have listened when I told them how to verify I did nothing illegal, or at least apologize afterwards, but hey… this is the free country everybody praises. Somewhere else might be even worse.

Crazy huh? His story read like something out of the Jack Ryan movie that he and his wife had gone to see. Are there any other Google Glass users out there that have been treated badly just for your wearable tech? If not, are you reconsidering wearing a pair to the next movie you attend?

Update (01/21/14):

Wow, this article has completely blown up our web server due to the traffic. I just wanted to follow up with a few comments and info. First of all, I’m not a journalist, I’m a tech geek writer. Posting this article has given me a good learning lesson though, which I’ll use if I ever post a similar article in the future.

I have been criticized for not citing my sources and following up with the theater to verify that the story was true. I didn’t feel the need at the time because the person who gave me the story is a long time Gadgeteer reader and works in law enforcement. I felt 100% confident the story was not a hoax. I did however call the theater in question and tried to get in touch with someone there for a comment. My calls went unanswered.

After the article was posted. Rob Jackson of Phandroid posted his take on the article and asked me for the author’s contact info. With the author’s permission, I forwarded that info and Rob followed up with some questions and answers that he posted on his site. Take a look for more info on this story:

Update #2:

I just received info from the author with regards to the agents that questioned him:

For the sake of having all the facts right.
I have been trying to find out who the agents that “interviewed” me at
AMC were, so I asked help from a guy I know at FBI. I worked with this
guy in the past when I was employed at a webhosting company. He did
some digging, and he tells me the “federal agents”
talking to me were DHS.

Update #3:

The title of the article has been changed to reflect the recent update from the author that it was actually the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) who detained him and not the FBI as he originally thought.

Update #4:

The story has been confirmed. I just received this email from the author:

Julie, Rob.

I spoke with a reporter from Columbus Dispatch, who obtained a
statement from DHS and forwarded it to me. Here it is:

From: Walls, Khaalid H []
Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 1:16 PM
To: Allison Manning
Subject: ICE

H Ally,

Please attribute the below statement to me:

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.

Khaalid Walls, ICE spokesman

Khaalid Walls
Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Update #5

Posted in: Android, Articles
{ 212 comments… add one }
  • Melody March 1, 2014, 8:14 pm

    I’ve heard way too many stories about policemen defying common sense, I’m starting to think that maybe they were ordered to do so; it’s possible, and if you think about it, I doubt anyone would do something like that on their own accord. So, I’m assuming it’s the bigwigs that are taking measures too high.

    In the first place, why would anyone want to watch a non-fullscreen movie with shaking (the taper can’t not breath)? There are tons of free streaming online, why don’t they go interview people there instead?

    It they think he would delete the data, they should just handle the glass themselves. He could give them the instructions, maybe a password if there are any, and the police wouldn’t be dumb enough to say “delete” if he told them to.

    Rather than saying “Here’s a few movie tickets” the theater could have sent a mail/email explaining their situation, why they had to assume the worst, then give him 2 movie tickets valid for entering mid-movie.

    • Arlo James Barnes September 14, 2015, 4:34 pm

      Melody, it is possible to set up a device to delete (possibly incriminating) data on itself without it being obvious that it is doing so; if the wearer had instructed police about how to verify his innocence, he might have left out the step that tells the device not to delete the data, and law enforcement cannot risk that (although they did when they eventually turned it on anyway).

  • Mark Goodwin April 1, 2014, 10:41 pm

    Wow! This is ridiculous. Too many ignorant people in uniform, with badges, etc. Google Glasses is not cheap (it’s super expensive) and it was yanked out by the guy with the badge from this person? Ignorance should be a crime and the guys who apprehended should be in jail. I just hope this doesn’t happen to all people who are using this expensive piece of technological breakthrough.

  • William Farver April 12, 2014, 11:23 pm

    This kind of over-reaction is an abuse of authority. It is the result of there being NO procedural guidelines or sensibilities established to protect the lawful behavior of the innocent from the abuse of the authorities. The public is the ONLY legal body that can establish the rules and it is done through the court system in the absense of State or Federal legislation mandating sensible procedures. It is your responsibility as the victim to persue justice through the legal system process in order to secure the freedom for others; nobody else can do it on your behalf. Many people have sacrificed their lives in the persuit of our freedoms both domestically and on foreign soils, and IT IS NOT asking too much of the victim to expend his share of aggrevation and expense in order to get the job done again….

  • brian m May 5, 2014, 9:08 am

    All I can say is “wow”. In my opinion, their needs to be some serious reprocussions on the part of AMC, the Mall, DHS, local Police through a law suite. When agencies who are tasked with ‘protecting’ us go so far beyond the scope of what they are tasked to do then restitution and apologies need to be given. That is only ‘right’.

    Now when a person spills hot coffee on themselves in a fast food drive through because they were clumsey…that’s a frivalous law suite that just clogs the legal system.

  • Matt June 2, 2014, 8:13 pm

    Just picked up on this (yeah, I’m not as tuned in as some).

    Anyone who has familiarity with how cam movies are made would know that google glass is even less useful than a phone video camera. The wearer would have to sit rock still for 90-120 minutes. Extremely unlikely.

    And of course they were more interested in berating these movie goers than actually checking to see if he had indeed recorded anything.

    What this shows is how stupid and poorly trained these ICE agents are. If this is representative of homeland security, then we have no protection from real criminals and terrorists.

    We are in trouble with these dolts.

  • OllieNKD June 10, 2014, 3:00 pm

    So you all thought bringing a recording device into a movie theater would go over well?

  • I tire of you all April 3, 2015, 6:33 am

    Why are people so ignorant about how the world works?

    DHS doesn’t MAGICALLY APPEAR! Someone CALLS them.
    Repeat. POLICE don’t MAGICALLY APPEAR, someone CALLS THEM.

    How is it DHS’s fault for RESPONDING to a report?

    Behind every dirt stupid waste of time report about police/government officials… there is an idiot with a cellphone calling in a report that they are, by law, required to investigate. It doesn’t matter how stupid it sounds, they HAVE to send someone over.

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