REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK | Mug shot magazines: Why are they legal? Should they be?

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In Minnesota, as in most states, booking photos—a.k.a. mug shots—are part of public record. Recently, private organizations have been making the most unflattering of these available online or in printed tabloids, sold mostly in convenience stores for a small profit. Some of these will remove photos for a payment.

Should these mug shots be released to the public before a conviction? If these tabloids are banned, what about a mug shot appearing in a legitimate news story—the photo of an arrested school shooter, for example. Which is more important, privacy for the not yet convicted, or the right of the public to know?

I’m reporting this story for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and I’ll be contacting law enforcement authorities among others. What questions would you like to ask about this story? What do you think is important about this issue? Who should I be talking to? We need your answers and your opinions as well. Please let us know in a comment below or via e-mail. Thanks!

Update: I’ve been talking to lawyers about this and it seems that some are finding creative ways of stopping some postings or publication of mugshots without getting into restricting the First Amendment. I don’t really think that many employers would be actually using Busted Magazine to check on employees (although you never know, with some people) but the paper and the websites are records of arrests and not of convictions. Many people whose photos appear may have their cases dismissed or be found not guilty if the case goes to trial.

Update: This story has been published. Please take a look—and let me know what you think.