NEFAC, Media Organizations Argue for Release of Mugshots Under Freedom of Information Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

Dec. 28 Amici Brief

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined 28 media and open government groups to support the release of mugshots under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The organizations filed on Dec. 28 an amici curiae brief in Detroit Free Press v. Dept. of Justice, a Sixth Circuit case being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. NEFAC also joined an amici brief filed in the lower court in 2015. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press drafted both briefs.

To be determined is whether FOIA requires the disclosure of booking photos of publicly named, federal indictees who have already appeared in court. The Sixth Circuit found that the release of mugshots could cause embarrassment to those pictured and could be withheld under the law’s exemption for unwarranted invasions of privacy.

NEFAC and its fellow amici argued that those pictured have no privacy right in the release of their photo and even if they did those rights would be outweighed by the public’s right to know. According to amici:

“[The Sixth Circuit’s] holding not only undercuts the fundamental purposes of the Act, it is inconsistent with historical practice and precedent of this Court, and limits the news media’s ability to gather information and report on the activities of law enforcement and the administration of justice. . . . The public’s interest in access to these photos is not voyeuristic, but is rather an interest in understanding the broader social context behind the arrest such photos serve to record. For example, the booking photograph of civil rights icon Rosa Parks depicts dignity and resolve in the face of a government enforced system of racial segregation. Her image conveys a powerful commitment to her act of civil disobedience, in addition to serving as an official record of the fact that she was arrested.”

NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases that affect the First Amendment rights of New Englanders. NEFAC recently filed an amicus in Rideout v. Gardner, a 2016 First Circuit case that overturned a New Hampshire law banning photographs in voting booths; Pinkham v. Maine Dept. of Transportation, a 2016 Maine case involving the right of litigants to obtain government information; and Commonwealth v. Lucas, a 2015 Massachusetts case addressing a state law that restricted free speech rights and could have resulted in unconstitutional restraints on publishers.

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NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

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