Thursday, May 25, 2006
Declaration of ‘Journalistic Purpose’ Sufficient to Obtain Arrest Records, Lockyer Concludes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A law enforcement agency must disclose the address of an arrestee to anyone who declares under penalty of perjury that the information will be used for a journalistic purpose, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a published opinion.
“[W]here the requester declares under penalty of perjury that the request is made for a journalistic purpose, the agency may not require that the requester present subscriber lists, distribution lists, copies of past publications, or proof of membership in a press trade association; display a press identification permit issued by a California law enforcement agency; or qualify as a journalist in a judicial action,” Lockyer wrote.
The attorney general further opined that while the California Public Records Act prohibits the use of arrestee’s address information to sell a product or service, it imposes no duty on the person requesting the information to monitor the subsequent use of the data by readers or subscribers.
The opinion, which was issued last Friday, was requested by Assemblyman Jay LaSuer, R-La Mesa. Paul Curry, a lobbyist for United Reporting Crime Beat News and a retired law enforcement officer, as is LaSuer, said the assemblyman requested the opinion on his behalf.
Crime Beat News is a subscription-based publication that provides information on persons arrested by law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Curry said he does not know who the publication’s subscribers are or what they do with the information, but subscribers are known to include criminal defense lawyers, insurance companies, private investigators, and others who have a business use for the details.
Curry, who called the opinion “great,” said he asked for the attorney general’s views because police records specialists have expressed “angst over the fact that my client publishes a newspaper.” He specifically criticized a professional group, the California Law Enforcement Association of Records Specialists, which he said was interfering with his client’s rights under the CPRA.
CLEARS President Lisa Riedman, who works for the Corona Police Department, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Lockyer noted that the statute requires release of information declared to be sought for a “journalistic...purpose,” rather than to specified individuals. Nothing in the text or the legislative history indicates the Legislature intended to limit the right of disclosure to those who work for the “commercial news media”—as opposed to Internet journalists and freelancers and the like—and would thus be likely to carry press passes or have subscriber lists, the attorney general said.
He also cited Proposition 59, which was approved at the last general election and amended the state Constitution to require that any restriction on public access to information be interpreted narrowly.
The relevant provision of the CPRA, Government Code Sec. 6254(f)(3), the attorney general wrote, “says nothing that could be construed as a requester to provide any kind of a ‘press credential’ in addition to a sworn declaration.” He added that “while the purpose of a given request must be journalistic, the requester need not be a journalist.”
Lockyer went on to say:
“We recognize that allowing address information to be published for journalistic purposes leaves open the possibility of commercial solicitation by subsequent users who are unrelated to the journalistic requester. That possibility, however, does not negate the statute’s purpose of protecting a person’s privacy. The statute as it stands substantially protects privacy interests by limiting the initial distribution of address information to those who do not intend to use it directly or indirectly for commercial purposes. The statute permits that limitation to be enforced by prosecution for perjury. It is not fatal to the statute that these means do not entirely foreclose the possibility of an invasion of someone’s privacy.”
He added that seeking to hold “journalistic requesters” responsible for others’ use of the information “would force the statute into suspect constitutional territory.”
The opinion, which was prepared for Lockyer by Deputy Attorney General Susan Duncan Lee, is No. 05-613.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company