Apple calls in Secret Service to raid artist who snapped its customers

A New York artist who hijacked computers in an Apple Store to take photographs of unwitting customers could face up to 20 years in prison after the technology company called in Secret Service agents who raided his home.

Kyle MacDonald, 25, was working on a project looking at the way people interact with technology. Taking advantage of Apple's liberal attitude to the public's use of computers in its stores, he installed software on about 100 computers that would take a photo every minute and forward the resulting images to him.

"I thought maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we're using them," he told the technology website Mashable.

But when MacDonald arranged a guerrilla showing of the pictures on computers in one of its stores, Apple took exception. On Thursday morning MacDonald was woken by four Secret Service agents who confiscated two computers, an iPod and two flash drives. He was told his project violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. As well as protecting the President, the Secret Service investigates computer crime.

MacDonald would only face a prison sentence if Apple decided to press charges. Yesterday he refused to comment further on his legal troubles.

The image of Secret Service agents invading the home of an artist at Apple's request is likely to burnish the company's growing reputation as a control freak. It has long been criticised for its strict regulation of the software it makes available for iPhones and iPads, and store employees are issued with minutely detailed instructions on how to engage with customers.

"They're quite strict about people taking photos in store in general," said Neil Saunders, a retail analyst at Verdict Research. "That's normal but you would think they'd be a little bit more open. They have a really strong image that they don't want to get shabby around the edges."