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Arrest

The latest proposal to amend New York's Freedom of Information Law would be a dangerous step backward for the public's right to know.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to allow police departments to withhold booking information and mug shots after making arrests as a means of preventing unscrupulous websites from posting mug shots for profit. Photos would be made public only when authorities are seeking assistance tracking down a fugitive.

The problem is that there are website operators who scour public databases for arrest records and then put the photos online in hopes that the people pictured will be embarrassed enough to pay a hefty fee to have their picture removed.

But keeping arrest records a secret goes against the openness and transparency that the legal system in the United States was built upon. Public records are public for a reason, and people have every right to know who has been arrested by police and what they've been charged with. Unlike some countries, we don't have secret detentions or trials here — and we certainly expect to be informed when the local police consider somebody a danger to the community.

Cuomo's office said the change would align New York with similar federal policies that have stood up to court challenges, but just because the state can make the change doesn't mean it should.

We understand that Cuomo's proposal is well-meaning, but what the Legislature should focus on is finding a way to stop the websites that exploit people, not limit access to public records.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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