Mugshot Publications: A Tough FOI Issue

This one is a bit difficult for me, until I place the situation into abstract First Amendment doctrine: these sites are acquiring public records, legally, of photos made, then publishing them. Yes, there are ample grounds here to debate the ethics of such publications, and the take-down fees are another matter altogether. But trying to parse broad restrictions on acquiring public records for “commercial use” takes us down a road no capitalist, information-rich economy wants to tread.

The story’s opening:

Mug shot magazines such as Mugly! and Busted! and their online equivalents have become popular in recent years. Some people just can’t resist visiting web sites or paying a buck at a local gas station for a thin tabloid full of pictures — some comical, others weird or just plain creepy — of people who’ve been arrested. Sometimes the photos depict people who were not convicted. Innocent people get caught up in the mix.

The magazine owners defend their product, saying they serve as a deterrent for future criminals, encourage Crime Stoppers tips, promote arrests, and put a face on area crime statistics. Mug shots are public record, they say, pointing to their First Amendment rights to publish the information. Besides, a caveat is included in the fine print: All suspects are innocent until proven guilty….



On Obama’s Decision Not to Release the Osama Photos…

Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden for Dai...

Image via Wikipedia

I read, then re-read, then re-read that headline, to make sure I didn’t transpose the names like Fox…

Anyway, Obama has made his call: he is not releasing the Bin Laden photos, not voluntarily, anyway. His reasoning is hard to argue with, at first blush.

In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk.”

Speculative? Yes. Does the United States government have a less-than-stellar record when it comes to the transparency of certain newsworthy military engagements (see, Lynch, Jessica; also Tillman Pat…)

Anyway, unless he seeks another one-off FOI exemption like he did for the second batch of Abu Ghraib photos, this FOI request might force his hand.
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