"People Staring At Computers," the Tumblr blog with the rather self-explanatory title, went viral in late June and has already landed its creator in hot water. The blog, created by artist Kyle McDonald, collects images taken surreptitiously from the built-in cameras in Apple Store computers. Recently, the project has come under investigation from the Secret Service, based on the possibility that McDonald has violated computer fraud law. The Secret Service arrived at McDonald's house yesterday and confiscated his computers, iPod and flash drives.
The program that took the pictures was installed on public computers at two Apple Stores in New York City. Photos were taken every minute and then sent directly to McDonald's personal computer. A spokesman told the BBC "that the investigation was taking place under US Code Title 18 /1030 which relates to 'Fraud and related activity in connection with computers.'"
McDonald asserts that he asked permission from staff to take pictures inside the store. If McDonald is arrested and convicted, he could serve up to 20 years. The artist is surprised by the turn this case has taken. "As I understand, photography in open spaces is legal unless explicitly prohibited," McDonald said. "The only permission came from the guard."
On the face of it, the project seemed benign and was undertaken in order to examine people's relationships with computers; McDonald said, "I thought [if] maybe we could see ourselves doing this, we would think more about our computers and how we're using them."
McDonald doesn't believe he's committed a crime, adding, "My main thought is that I'd rather spend my time and money making new work rather than dealing with a computer fraud investigation."
Check out a video of the project below.