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Court grants access to photos of persons stopped by police

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NEW HAMPSHIRE         Freedom of Information    

Court grants access to photos of persons stopped by police

  • The public has a right to see the photos taken by police officers of people detained but not arrested, New Hampshire’s high court ruled.

May 5, 2003 — The New Hampshire high court ruled that the Manchester Police Department must release photographs the department took over the past five years of people officers had stopped but did not arrest.

The case originated by a request for the photos by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

The NHCLU asked the city for the photos after it learned that the police department routinely took pictures of individuals it had stopped but not arrested. The group sued after the city refused to release the records.

On April 30, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision forcing the release of the photos.

The city argued that releasing the records would infringe on the privacy rights of those who were photographed. Assuming that there is a privacy interest at stake, the court noted that this interest “is minimal because the photographs do not reveal intimate details of an individual’s life.”

The court noted, however, that individuals’ privacy rights would not be infringed in this case because “the photographs at issue would be disclosed as a large group for statistical analysis only, and not for individual publication or dissemination.”

The court ruled that release of the photos “could provide information about the operation of the police department” and that they could potentially reveal racial profiling tactics by the police.

Under New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law, the court said that the public has a right to “the greatest possible public access” to the records that were sought. The court said that the city could not show “any privacy interest in the photographs at issue” which could outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

(New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union v. City of Manchester; Media Counsel: Andru H. Volinsky, Stein, Volinsky & Callaghan, Concord, N.H.) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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