A man, armed with nothing more than a prescription pair of glasses equipped with Google Glass, was recently questioned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for several hours at an AMC movie theater at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. Here’s an excerpt from The Gadgeteer:
“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. [...] I kept telling them that Glass has a USB port and not only did I allow them, I actually insist [sic] 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.”
According to The Washington Post, an ICE spokesman made the following statement:
“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.”
It doesn’t take a genius to conceive of a different way this incident could have been handled. For starters, officials from the Movie Picture Association of America (MPAA) simply could’ve asked the guy to remove his glasses or, perhaps, to leave the theater. By using ICE agents to do their bidding, the MPAA was able to leverage the power of the federal government in a highly inappropriate manner. While the involvement of even one ICE agent in this instance was ethically dubious, the show of force that occurred that day seems to have been spectacular. Again, from The Gadgeteer account:
“It was quite embarrassing and outside of the theater there were about 5-10 cops and mall cops.”
I can’t think of a tactical reason why one would need a group of 5-10 ICE agents and mall security to detain and question a suspected movie pirate. There is no indication from the Glass wearer’s account or from the ICE spokesman’s statement that violence was ever an issue in this incident. However, enlisting the assistance of so many agents serves to intimidate a non-violent person without just cause.
I’m not particularly pleased with the ICE agents’ reported behavior either. If The Gadgeteer’s account is true, the suspect seems to have practically begged the agents to simply search his device for the alleged offending video. Despite such an opportunity, the above-linked account states that the agents proceeded to question him for several hours before searching the device. In the end, it was all for nothing.
Incidents like this diminish the public trust in law enforcement, which compromises our national security in the long run. If people perceive that agencies such as ICE are busy pursuing the interests of organizations like the MPAA, they are less likely to work with these agencies in situations where legitimate and valuable law enforcement work is done. In addition to being unethical, the involvement of ICE agents in this incident is also incredibly wasteful. There are likely a myriad of other, more important things that ICE officials could be investigating. Some dude who forgot to take his Google Glass off of his face hardly tops my list of high priority safety concerns.
Such an incident clearly demonstrates the need for the judicious use of law enforcement resources. In this case, nearly everyone involved failed to take a more prudent approach.