Bill would make a mugshot mess

Published Apr 4, 2013 at 05:00AM

What should be done about Internet businesses making money from downloading mugshots taken when people are arrested? The answer is not Oregon House Bill 3467.

There are Internet businesses that scoop up mugshot pictures posted online and repost them on their own websites. Other businesses offer to remove a mugshot from a specific website for a fee of about $90 or multiple websites for as much as $900, according to The Oregonian.

It can be embarrassing for someone who may have never been convicted of any crime to know a mugshot picture could come up any time someone searches their name.

To control the mugshot businesses, Reps. Mitch Greenlick and Jennifer Williamson, both Democrats from Portland, propose to require anyone who wants a mugshot to go in person to a law enforcement office and request it.

Oregon law enforcement agencies would also be prohibited from posting mugshots on the Internet.

Mugshots, though, are public records. Why make it more difficult for the public to find out what’s going on? It would also make it more difficult for television stations and newspapers to report the news.

Williamson told The Oregonian it was not her intent to make it more difficult for journalists and she would be willing to look at an amendment that would not require journalists make an in-person visit for every mugshot.

That’s problematic, too. That puts the state or law enforcement agencies in the position of defining what is a journalist. It also elevates journalists above the public in right of access to public records. That is wrong.

Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah just signed into law a requirement in that state that requires people requesting mugshots declare that they will not post it on a website that will charge to remove it. That’s another bad solution. If it’s a public record, a member of the public should not have to declare why they want it.