Police mugshots are a public record—but is Facebook too public?

On Sunday the Portland Police Bureau swept through Occupy Portland protests in Jamison Square, arresting 27 people. That same day, the department posted mugshots of seven of those people on its Facebook page.

That page has since become a home for Portlandian outrage. Residents and Occupy Portland supporters have bombarded it with more than 500 angry comments.

“Posting these pictures is absolutely unacceptable,” Facebook user Kristen Andrews wrote. “If this is public record, there are avenues that have to be taken for the release of this information. This is an incredible violation of privacy.”

One of the commenters, Joey B’Shalom, claimed to be an Air Force veteran and the mother of two teenagers arrested on Sunday.

“I swore to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that's what I did, and am doing,” B’Shalom wrote. “My children and the other 25 men and women of Jamison Square are the true patriots here, not those who would oppose their rights as guaranteed by our Constitution.”

It’s completely legal for the police to post mugshots—they’re a public record. But twenty years ago viewing the photographs would have required at least a walk to the local police department.  

Facebook, with its 800 million users, brings a whole new layer of meaning to the word “public.” As BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin noted, posting the photographs to Facebook “just feels weird.”

Still, the Portland Police Bureau has been posting mugshots to its Facebook pages for months. When residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, used Facebook to identify and publicly shame rioters earlier this year, that received largely positive media attention.

But supporters view the Occupy Portland protesters as exercising their rights to free speech and peaceable assembly, and disagree with the police that they’ve committed any crime. (Demonstrators were accused of trespassing, interfering witha  police officer, and disorderly conduct.)

So one has to wonder: is the controversy about mugshots being made public, or about who was arrested?

A day after the police posted photographs of the seven Occupy Portland protesters, they added an image of Richard Tomlinson. Police arrested the 52-year-old Tomlinson yesterday for aggravated assault after he allegedly tried to attack a coworker with a hacksaw.

Tomlinson’s photograph was posted directly to the bureau’s Facebook wall. Like the Occupy Portland protesters, he’s innocent until proven guilty. No one’s complained about the invasion of his privacy yet—though plenty are making fun of him.

“Ahh, Halloween,” wrote one.

“One of the better mugshots of the year,” wrote another.

Photo by Sarah Mirk of the Portland Mercury