April 12, 2005

That's it, that's the whole of the law

Cody wrote about a run-in with the law when he took a photograph of the new Mint. On the heels of the MTA's attempt to ban photography in the subways, this caused me alarm. The ever-present threat of terrorism, once domestic (viz., Eric Rudolph, who has just pleaded guilty to several bombings around Atlanta in the late '90s), now shadowy and international, has become a blanket excuse for ad-hoc delineation of the rights described in the First, Fourth, Sixth, and Ninth Amendments.
So I took a stroll past the Mint this afternoon, and while I did so, took some snaps. Within thirty seconds (four frames!), two unmarked white cars pulled up in front of me, and a magisterial officer stepped out of one:
Paul Cochlin, but I might be mis-spelling his family name. He surprised me by addressing me politely. He asked if I was taking photographs of that building, and I said Yes. He told me that it was a Federal Building, and that he was responsible for its security. He also said that it was not against the law to photograph the building, but that anyone taking photographs of this particular building aroused curiosity. He asked for ID, which I declined to present. He told me that he could not detain or arrest me, but then asked why I was taking pictures. I told him that I lived nearby, and am interested in how the neighbourhood looks. He nodded and said that was a common response (ha! that's what digital cameras have done: elevated sloppy graff and urban blight to art!). We then stood there and chatted for several minutes about the history of the building (I feigned that I didn't know the history of the New Mint), and he said that the corner down near the Duboce Yard was once a Standard Oil filling station. He was courteous yet firm: exactly the sort of clear-headed security officer I'd want guarding important installations. He also had a badge and a gun, and identified himself. I'm still uncomfortable that photographing a Federal building draws so much attention.
The "new" San Francisco Mint (plenty photos online) currently produces only proof coins, according to a numismatic web site.

Posted to shenanigans by salim at 08:31 PM