A Brooklyn artist’s home was searched by U.S. Secret Service agents Thursday morning, and two of his computers and a handful of other hardware were seized during the search.
The agents were sent by a local Apple Store.
Kyle McDonald, a 25-year-old artist working on a project that documented the reactions of people using computers. According to a story from Mashable, in order to gather images for the project, McDonald went to a pair of Apple Stores near where he lives on three days in June and got permission to take photos within the store. He also asked customers in the store for the permission to use their images, and then installed a program on several computers in the stores that took pictures of whatever was in front of them about once a minute.
The photos were sent back to McDonald’s computer at his home. McDonald loaded several of the photos up on his Tumblr account, and even set up the computers in the Apple Stores to show them as a sort of exhibition. Patrons in the stores had their pictures taken and then displayed on the screens; McDonald said no one complained, so he didn’t think it was a big deal.
Apple Stores wipe their computers each night, so McDonald had to reinstall the program every day for the three days that he gathered the photos. Over the course of the project, he set up nearly 100 Apple computers to take pictures each minute and send them back to his servers – and that’s a lot of traffic on the stores’ networks, which Apple monitors. Eventually, a technician traced the program back to its source, and his picture showed up in McDonald’s server after the tech downloaded the program to see what it was. Even though none of what he’d done was authorized, McDonald didn’t hear from Apple, so he figured Apple found the art project and figured it wasn’t a big deal.
That was until the four Secret Service agents showed up with a warrant. They also said McDonald would be hearing from Apple.
Mashable couldn’t reach Apple for a comment, and McDonald doesn’t think that anything he did was technically illegal. The point of the project was to capture people interacting with computers, which he said shows differently in our faces than interaction with other people, even though computer use can be a social experience. It also closes people off from one another in a lot of ways, he explained to Mashable.
While the art project might be an interesting one, McDonald’s work on it is on hiatus, at least until he can get a new computer since the Secret Service has his impounded. We’ll have to wait and see what other action Apple and the federal government might take against him.