Supressing public information is the wrong kind of justice reform


In the name of criminal-justice reform, Gov. Cuomo has signed on to at least one cure that’s worse than the disease: banning the public disclosure of mug shots and arrest information as “an invasion of privacy.”

The problem: Some unscrupulous sites extort cash from people anxious to wipe their past criminal history from the Web. Even if you beat the charges, your mug shot will show in a Google search.

Hence Cuomo’s ban, which makes an exception only when police are searching for a fugitive. But this is a significant curb on New York’s public criminal-justice system.

Worse, it would leave the release of arrest info solely to police discretion. That could easily protect accused rapists — not to mention corrupt, connected politicians. It would also let police conceal the arrest of fellow cops.

But what about sites that post publicly available mugshots, then charge people, fearful of being denied employment, huge fees to remove them? Cuomo’s office says laws outlawing such blackmail aren’t working, because “mugshots keep popping up online.”

The answer to that is enforcement. California last year arrested the four co-owners of the largest such site and charged them with extortion, money laundering and identity theft. Other states have followed suit; the site has also faced civil lawsuits.

Taking information out of the public domain merely because it’s open to abuse is the wrong way to go.


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