Artist Raided Over Apple Store Spy Snaps

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A New York artist has been visited by the Secret Service after he used Apple Store computers to snap shoppers

The US Secret Service has confiscated computers from a 25-year-old “media artist” in New York City after he used software installed on Apple Store computers to covertly snap photos of shoppers, and post the results online.

Kyle McDonald said he had permission from security guards at various Apple Stores around New York City for the “photographic intervention”, which he called “People Staring At Computers”. However, that apparently wasn’t enough for Apple, which sent Secret Service agents to his home, where they confiscated two computers, an iPod and two flash drives.

Stiff charges

The warrant stated that his activities had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and McDonald could face up to 20 years in prison if Apple decides to press charges.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

McDonald installed an application on Apple Store machines around New York, which then took a picture every minute and uploaded it if a face was found in the image. The application then exhibited the face on every available computer in the store, McDonald said. The project page can be found here.

McDonald said he had not had permission from Apple or from the people whose pictures were taken.

“As I understand, photography in open spaces is legal unless explicitly prohibited,” McDonald wrote in a Twitter post on Thursday. “The only permission came from the guard.”

EFF advice

McDonald said he had contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for advice and had been told to lie low for the moment.

In a video describing the project McDonald said he wanted to see what would happen if people became more aware of how they were staring at computers.

“Maybe if we could see what our computer sees we would stare differently?” he said in the video.

Most shoppers looked confused and pressed the “escape” button to try to remove their image from the screen, McDonald said.

In the course of the project McDonald took about 1,000 photos over three days at Apple Stores around New York.

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