Mug Shot Proposal Pits Privacy Versus The Right To Know

Mug shot proposal pits privacy versus the right to know

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s governor doesn’t want state police to routinely release mug shots of criminal suspects, or booking records about exactly what they’re being arrested for.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal is the latest by states aimed at curtailing the so-called “internet shaming industry”— websites that claim to be able to remove embarrassing information such as booking mug shots from the web for a fee.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, unless there is a compelling law enforcement reason to do so, the public release of booking mugs and arrest information would be refused as “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

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Journalists and some civil libertarians are opposed to such measures, calling them an infringement on the public’s right to know what the government is doing. Publishing, broadcasting or posting mug shots with stories of people arrested for crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder has been a staple of local news coverage for decades.

“Reporting on crimes in our communities is an extremely important function of the news media, and this proposal, as well-intentioned as it may be, would be a major threat to our ability to provide the public with important information that they count on us to receive,” said Jeremy Boyer, executive editor of The Citizen of Auburn, New York, and president of the New York State Associated Press Association.

Cuomo’s proposal, which would require legislative approval to change the state’s Freedom of Information Law, only applies to state agencies such as the state police, corrections department and attorney general’s office. Local law enforcement agencies would still have the option of deciding whether to release mug shots and booking information.

Since releasing the proposal in his state budget plan in mid-January, Cuomo has indicated he’s willing to recraft the idea in light of the “tension” it has created with media outlets. During a Jan. 28 public radio interview, the governor said he’s “open to a better solution.”

The New York Police Department, the nation’s largest, releases information on arrests but doesn’t put out mug shots unless investigators believe that will prompt more witnesses to come forward or aid in finding a suspect, said Devora Kaye, an NYPD spokeswoman.

Cuomo’s proposal is supported by advocacy groups including the Fortune Society, a New York City nonprofit organization providing services to formerly incarcerated people. JoAnne Page, the group’s president and CEO, says the problem is that mug shots appearing in news stories and posted on the internet are easy for anyone to find and live “for perpetuity.”

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