Language in new “mugshot” law leaves public release decision up to local agencies

SALEM, Ore.- A new law passed earlier this year could change how the public gets to view mugshots. But months later, there has been no further guidelines for how the law should be utilized.

House Bill 3273 was signed into law by the governor this summer and limits how booking photos are released to the public. Under the new law, booking photos, or “mugshots”, can only be released to the public if its in the public interest, like for catching a suspect or fugitive. But the bill’s language leaves that up to each agency.

Jackson County’s Sheriff Nathan Sickler says he is aware of the law, but couldn’t provide any details on what the circumstances would be for them to release a photo.

“Our jail is very aware of the changes coming and obviously, we try to follow the law, so we are going to make some changes to our process so we are compliant with the state statute,” he said.

Tim Gleason is a University of Oregon professor who’s expertise is in public record and communication law. He says the new law was likely created in good interest but is still something to be critical of because of how it impacts public access to information.

“We should look very carefully whenever we take information out of the public domain,” he said. “It denies the public access to information that is valuable to the public in order to protect individuals from the actions of the few.”

Gleason says letting law enforcement agencies set those circumstances could be in conflict to public interest.

“Law enforcement agencies are very reluctant to release information and will broadly interpret the public interest standard that denies access,” he explained. But he also says leaving that determination up the state could also be problematic.

“There is a history in public records law of the public interest standard being very narrowly determined by government agencies.”

Backers of the bill says it was spurred on by the backlash people faced after being arrested and having their photo published, especially following 2020’s protests and demonstrations. House Bill 3047 was also passed alongside this law, and it specifically takes aim at the act of doxing.

“There are these sites that essentially blackmail people in order to take down photos, and we have sites where individuals use them to dox,” Gleason said, adding he is “certain” doxing was part of the equation.

According to the state’s legislative website, the law goes into effect on January 1st, 2022.

Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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