Buildings You Can't Photograph

Very Kafkaesque:

The bottom line is that McCammon was caught in a classic logical trap. If he had only known the building was off-limits to photographers, he would have avoided it. But he was not allowed to know that fact. “Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped,” McCammon wrote. “Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.”

The only antidote to this security mania is sunshine. Only when more and more Americans do as McCammon has done and take the time and effort to chronicle these excesses and insist on answers from authorities will we stand a chance of restoring balance and sanity to the blend of liberty and security that we are madly remixing in these confused times.

Here’s the relevent map. It’s the building on the NW/upper-left side of the intersection.

Posted on July 19, 2007 at 2:25 PM36 Comments


The Mailman July 19, 2007 2:47 PM

“Here’s the relevent map. It’s the building on the NW/upper-left side of the intersection.”

Heh. Nice subtle way of pointing out that Google is hosting a picture of that very same building, and is sharing it with the world.

Rich Wilson (formerly just Rich on older blog posts) July 19, 2007 3:03 PM

I think the title should be “Buildings you may not photograph”

Leila July 19, 2007 3:41 PM

There is some additional interesting information in regard to this incident on the would-be photog’s own website:

Including his pic of the cop.

What surprised me was the way some of his commenters there attacked him.

gulfie July 19, 2007 3:47 PM

Reminds me of some sort of 3 year olds trick of hiding behind a blankie. The “if you can’t seem me I don’t exist” defense.

If you want to keep something secure and secret you put it in a bunker. They are rather cheap in comparison to security leaks, or someone ‘accidentaly’ driving a truck through those nice big windows and making off with a few servers and filing cabinets.

photohappy July 19, 2007 3:50 PM

Why not get a flash mob together and just go down and have 200 people lining the sidewalks taking pictures of the place all at once?

That would definitely call some attention to the heavyhanded stupidity that seems to have been put in place since 9/11.

Mike Schiraldi July 19, 2007 4:45 PM

At least we’re allowed to know that we’re not allowed to know that we’re not allowed to take a photograph of the building.

Are there any buildings out there where we’re not allowed to know the fact that we’re not allowed to know the fact that we’re not allowed to photograph them?

Tim July 19, 2007 5:03 PM

When I was in Sydney Australia as a tourist I was charmed by a nice coffee shop in the food court of an inner city highrise. When I tried to take a photo, security rushed up to me to stop me! I really felt like a criminal.

Rich Wilson (formerly just Rich on older blog posts) July 19, 2007 5:27 PM

Flahs mob #2:

A bunch of people set up easels and draw pictures of the building.

Flash mob #3:

A bunch of people come out and stare at the building intently, obviously trying to memorize what it looks like.

Grahame July 19, 2007 6:27 PM

This is not an uncommon security pattern; information exists. Denying access to the information can be just as communicative as the information itself, so a proper security person would like to suppress the fact that the information itself is suppressed.

A similar case exists in healthcare records. It is generally agreed that it is reasonable for a person to ask for portions of their record to be suppressed; parts dealing with STD’s or psychosis episodes or similar. And commonly patient privacy advocates ask that the fact that this information is suppressed also be suppressed.

But it can’t be: all healthcare is interlinked, and the hole will be visible. It can only be filled by fabricating information, which is even worse.

This is a long recognised problem. Ross Anderson covers it well in his books, including reviews of related CIA leaks.

Unfortunate when it results in legal ambiguity.

Kanly July 19, 2007 7:10 PM

Did you see on The Daily Show that Chenney’s official residence, the Naval Observatory in Washington, has been pixelated on Google?

On the bright side, if it saves anyone from stumbling across Chenney sunbathing in the nude, the public is ahead.

rybolov July 19, 2007 7:24 PM

Hey, last year I was in that building by mistake. My dentist’s office is next door, and I went in the wrong door. The guards with guns in the lobby told me to beat it. =)

No, I won’t tell you what it really is. You’ll have to ask around town yourself.

John Doe July 19, 2007 8:26 PM

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned yet that this building is the DARPA headquarters. Not saying that justifies the police response, but at least it makes a little more sense (i.e., it’s not just some random building).

Captain Ned July 19, 2007 9:16 PM

That’s an old picture. The big green space one block east of the DARPA building (assuming that’s correct) hasn’t existed for 3-4 years. It’s now a huge building much like the one directly to the east of the big lawn, and is the new FDIC headquarters (they’ve moved most of the HQ stuff out of DC proper; only the bigwigs remain in DC). The buildings we see in this pic surrounding the lawn are the FDIC’s training facility. The big parking lot behind the FDIC building is the George Mason University Law School.

Stephen July 19, 2007 10:48 PM

Camera + cable + script + broadband-enabled phone = no photos stored locally, nothing to delete on officer’s demand.

alex July 20, 2007 5:58 AM

The only result of this event is that the entire world now knows the location of the building, how its looks like and what is in there….
nice… I like the net for this anti-censorship

bob July 20, 2007 6:42 AM

This is the same philosophy they came out with after 9/11 where they prohibited general aviation from flying over nuclear power plants AND CONCURRENTLY removed their locations from flying maps so you cant tell where you are supposed to stay away from. Stupidity by obscurity?

Arlingtonian July 20, 2007 7:01 AM

Google maps does not say what that building is. Might not really be such a great target. Personally, the FPS guys standing outside the building are a clue for me to not photograph it.

Chris July 20, 2007 8:27 AM

Thats ridiculous, there’s a (subway)metro station on that corner (hit hybrid view).

Why would you locate a “secret” building on a corner of a busy public intersection?

“Easy…because now that we don’t have to make an effort to hide, we can just suspend civil liberties”

Photog July 20, 2007 9:13 AM

If you are standing in a public space in the United States of America, you can legally photograph anything from that space.

George July 20, 2007 12:09 PM

There aren’t a lot of terrorists. Or at least not enough to provide full-time employment for everyone who wants to build a career or empire fighting the War On Terror.

If you can’t catch a quota of terrorists, perhaps harassing photographers will be enough to let a policeman or rentacop establish War Hero credentials. Those sort of people don’t like photographers anyway, since their cameras might catch them doing something corrupt, incompetent, or lazy. So they’re good targets for anyone who wants to invoke the Patriot Act in vain. After all, even people wearing fake military uniforms don’t go walking through TSA checkpoints every day.

Bob July 21, 2007 9:35 AM

Yes, indeed the world has gone paranoia about people taking pictures of buildings.

Not sure how much reporting has gone on in US of this recent debacle in Australia.

An Indian-born doctor working in Gold Coast has been implicated as part of the terrorist group to detonate bomb recently in UK based on wrong evidence collected by AFP and now detained by Immigration Department with his visa was canceled because he is guilty (without charges) by family association that was arrested in UK bombing.

It gets so bad that the AFP is now a laughing stock in UK. Not contended with the mistake, they are now trying to nail this poor old soul because he took photos of buildings around Gold Coast:

So if you are:
1) A foreigner non Anglo-Sexon visiting Australia or temporary working in Australia
2) A Muslim

Do not take photos of any building. Do not have relative that is a criminal and do not go near demolition or construction site.

Otherwise your chance for being labeled as a terrorist and then detained indefinitely is extremely high.

Fishy July 21, 2007 1:14 PM

Getting into that building for a meeting is a trip. The lobby goes to a guard room, you have to be on the list, sign zillions of things, get a pass, and then go past another guard to get on the elevators.

Upstairs, all the doors are locked and unmarked.

No radios or cameras are allowed in the buildings, at least by mortal visitors.

The meeting host said that they scan for RF, so if you forgot and brought your cell phone, please turn it off right now he is won’t get in trouble.

Alex July 24, 2007 4:32 AM

The only result of this event is that the entire world now knows the location of the building, how its looks like and what is in there….

This is called the Streisand effect []

Local Lady July 28, 2007 1:34 PM

FYI – Just found out this morning that you can not take a picture of the nearby FDIC building either. But, the FDIC rent-a-cops are no way near as zealous as the DARPA ones. Nor do they appear to have county backup on site. (There is usually an Arlington County cop car on hand at the DARPA building.) They just ran me off – didn’t actually try to get me to delete the images or something equally useless.

Simon August 7, 2007 5:56 AM

can you tell me if there is a law which prohibits the taking of photographs in this situation?

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