A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: public records

The Ghost of Public Records

By Alex Noble

Let’s face it – we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. But what happens when your past follows you everywhere, because it is a matter of public record? That’s what’s happening to Yasmin Rahman, a 27 year-old New Yorker who says that as a consequence of trying to commit suicide 12 years ago, today she can’t land a job.

Yasmin Rahman was 15 years old when she tried to kill herself by jumping from a crowded subway platform in front of an oncoming train. The NYPD saved her life that day – they rescued her from the tracks and she spent six months recovering in the hospital. She learned to cope with her mental health issues, finished high school, enrolled in and completed college —  and says that 39 employers have refused to hire her because they found detailed reports of her suicide attempt when they searched her name in the public records.

If you ask Ms. Rahman, this is unfair. And since she can’t erase the past, she has settled on the next best thing – filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NYPD for releasing her information to the public in the first place. Yes, this is the very same department whose officers saved her life. And yes, Ms. Rahman is suing for invasion of privacy though she tried to kill herself in one of the most public ways imaginable.

But before you gather a posse with torches and pitchforks, remember that Ms. Rahman was a minor at the time, and that a person’s mental illness is a personal and very confidential matter.

Several media outlets have reported the facts behind Rahman’s lawsuit, but only LASIS explores the merits of her claim.

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Monetizing Mug Shots: A Legal Analysis

By Zachary Edelman

A picture is worth a thousand words. And when that picture is a mug shot it might be worth a whole lot more.

That not so attractive mug shot of you (who are we kidding?) — that godawful shot of you –for a DWI that you prayed nobody would ever see? It’s the first thing that comes up in Google searches of your name, thanks to websites like JustMugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com and FindMugshots.com, which compile mug shots from public records and put them into easy-to-search databases. And they’re getting rich doing it. Some sites charge up to $400 to remove your photo from their database. The problem: Many people don’t have that kind of money. And even if they do, once they pay one site that incriminating photo just pops up on another one.

Some people have decided they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and are suing the websites purveying the embarrassing pics. After all, people demanding money to delete photographs – or else – is extortion, isn’t it?

A lawyer for BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com argues that the First Amendment protects the websites’ practices because mug shots are public records.

But Scott Ciolek, representing Ms. Lashaway and Mr. Kaplan, vehemently disagrees. He says the First Amendment argument is “logically false” adding that, “The law prohibits demanding money to stop embarrassing somebody”.

Many media outlets have reported on the lawsuit, but none have assessed its legal merits.

LASIS zooms in.

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Born Identity: Are Birth Records Public Information?

By Tara Krieger

“Yes, the president was born here – but no, we can’t show you proof.”

Such has paradoxically been the policy of the Aloha State, which claims it has nothing to hide, but it must keep the official record of President Obama’s birth concealed. The policy has many Americans perplexed, particularly those who have been spreading rumors to the contrary. Aren’t all birth records publicly accessible, they say? (more…)

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