Park Police Withhold Mug Shots
of Choi, Pietrangelo, McGehee
Three gay activists were arrested on March 18 at the White House fence protesting President Obama's less-than fierce advocacy to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. They were servicemembers Dan Choi and Jim Pietrangelo, and activist Robin McGehee of GetEqual.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for their mug shots from the U.S. Park Police, the federal law enforcement agency that arrested the three, and the chief replied with the letter below. My curiosity about what the activists looked like when they were booked, and obtaining a federal public document connected to their act of civil disobedience, led me to send in the FOIA.
The Park Police chief explains that the mug shots will not be released because of exemptions in the FOIA statutes, allowing the feds to withhold them since their release could have a stigmatizing effect on the arrestees, and other factors.
I was not aware of this exemption, and a friend pointed me to a February 2009 article from the Tulsa World about it:
The federal government protects the mug shots of its inmates, citing privacy rights. [...]
That means people arrested for violating state laws will have their mug shots made available. But the photos of people detained by federal officials stay secret. [...]
In practice, a college student arrested for public intoxication will have a mug shot publicly available, while the face of a suspected multistate drug-ring leader or identity theft mastermind remains unknown.
"Arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and ridiculous is how I would describe it," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
"It conveys the overall federal attitude that any information to identify a human being is private. It's the federal Privacy Act run amok. You are just not going to get a federal mug shot."
The only way the public sees such mug shot is either when it's leaked, or the arrested person releases it. Maybe the three people arrested in March, along with the other gay arrested recently at the White House fence, could slake my curiosity and share their mug shots on the web. That would help me gain a fuller picture of more aspects about the current mini-wave of angry gay activism in Washington.
Here is the two-page letter. Click to enlarge: