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Evan Schuman: Fear of Glass

Evan Schuman | Jan. 27, 2014
Google Glass is just the latest technological advance to elicit fear and dread in some quarters, including law enforcement.

So the folks at AMC don't like its customers wearing devices with the capability of recording video. I wonder how they feel about customers carrying devices with that capability. Oh, wait. They're apparently fine with that, since probably half of the audience for Shadow Recruit was carrying a smartphone. I haven't heard anyone suggest that smartphones be checked at the door.

Perhaps the managers of movie theaters should find out a bit more about Glass. Brian Katz, the director of mobile innovation at a large pharmaceutical company who has been using Glass for about three months, said that the current version of the device simply wouldn't work well for pirating a motion picture, mostly due to video quality issues.

"It's a very wide-angle lens. It's not going to look great," Katz said. "I don't think anyone would want to watch it. The person's head has to be perfectly still for more than two hours. The camera is on your head, so the picture moves every time you move."

And Katz noted that there is a practical reason why Glass would be a terrible choice for surreptitious video capture in a movie theater. "You can easily tell when someone is recording, because the screen lights up. In a dark theater, it would be obvious," he said.

In any case, this kind of theater recording doesn't even make much sense anymore, given that there are so many high-quality digital recordings making the rounds -- to movie theaters, awards shows and film critics. They are an infinitely superior source for bootleg copies.

Let me be clear about something: I see piracy as a serious issue. In fact, I have a personal bias against it. For years, I owned a site that sold premium content. Every time someone took one of our copyrighted stories and posted it on a website, I lost money, because readers wouldn't subscribe if they believed they could just do a Google search and find our content somewhere else. I have no sympathy for movie pirates, and I understand the importance of enforcing copyright laws.

That said, the invasion of personal liberty has to be in proportion to the danger of the alleged criminal act. Possessing a legal device should not get a person into trouble. The device shouldn't be forcibly removed unless it's a clear and present danger of bodily harm to others, or if there is a realistic possibility that evidence will be destroyed, and unless there is no less intrusive way to separate the person and the device. In less serious situations, it shouldn't be confiscated even temporarily unless a person takes the device into a place that has specifically banned such devices -- say, for example, a gun in a bar in a state where that is illegal, or a camera in a museum that has posted notices that cameras are not allowed. But if a museum has no explicitly stated rule against carrying cameras, no one should be interrogated because he carried a camera into that museum and accused of photographing the artworks. And the accusation should be based on something more than the fact that the person had a camera on his person; some real evidence is called for. Similarly, of course, if a theater has no explicitly stated rule against Glass, no one should be interrogated for wearing Glass into that theater and accused of movie piracy.

By the way, if someone at that movie theater on Saturday night had a gun on his person, law enforcement would not have confiscated it. Packing heat in a movie theater is perfectly legal in Ohio. But Google Glass? Much too dangerous!


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