California Senate takes on mugshot publishing industry

California residents whose mugshots are posted online by privately run Web sites may no longer have to pay to have the photos taken down.

A bill passed by the California Senate on Monday would make it illegal for mugshot publishing Web sites to charge fees – often amounting to hundreds of dollars – to remove photos of individuals who have been accused of crimes. The bill will head to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for approval.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat who authored the bill, said he wants to curb the influence of the exploitative mugshot Web sites, which do not always reflect instances in which charges against the person arrested are dropped.

Nearly 60 percent of the 932,500 Californians arrested in 2011 were never convicted, Hill said.

“We’re all accountable for our behavior, but that doesn’t mean someone should make money by spreading your booking photo on the Web – especially if you were never convicted of a crime,” Hill said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.

A similar law to prohibit payment for removing a mugshot was passed in Utah and Georgia last year. The same year, lawmakers in New Jersey attempted to make it illegal to distribute mugshots until a person had been found guilty.

Two of the biggest mugshot Web sites agreed in January to stop charging for photo removal as part of a $7,500 federal settlement. Lawsuits had been filed against the Web sites – BustedMugshots.com and MugShotsOnline.com – in a half-dozen states, with most claiming extortion.

The owner of BustedMugshots.com, which charges for subscriptions to have access to crime data, argues that sharing jail booking photos helps make communities safer.

The Web site promises to “help make crime awareness part of your everyday life in keeping yourself and family safe — just the same as locking your doors, arming your car, protecting your identity, etc.”

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Hunter Schwarz · August 5, 2014