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The unexpected place to find your mugshot

News stories of celebrity mugshots or funny mugshots pop up on Facebook every day. To most readers, we laugh, ‘like’ and move on, but what if one day, your mugshot pops up online. Mugshot websites turn this fear into a reality.

Booking or arrest photographs, mugshots, obtained from law enforcement websites are posted on commercial websites, like mugshots.com. When asked to remove photos, some sites will remove them at no cost when charges are dropped or arrestees are found not guilty. Other sites will only remove the mugshot for a fee.

Legality of mugshot sites

Your mugshot online can influence employment, housing and your reputation for years to come. With these concerns, many people question the legality of these sites and how laws can protect people’s privacy.

Mugshots are a matter of public record, so some police districts will post information about arrests online along with mugshots of the arrestees. Not all police districts will share arrests online, but information is available to community members if the file a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Mugshot websites will repost photos from these police districts and claim protection under the First Amendment for freedom of speech. The process is not perfect, but it is legal. The questionable behavior comes in when sites ask for fees to remove these photos.

Mugshots sites and the future

Several states addressed these issues by prohibiting sites from charging fees for the removal of mugshots from a website or regulating the site’s practices. In 2013, five states enacted legislation to prohibit commercial sites from charging fees for removing inaccurate mug shots upon request or by prohibiting sheriffs from releasing mug shots to sites that charge a fee, among other provisions.

Recently, Delaware and Florida added their own provisions to the legislation to protect children’s faces and specify a time limit for removal under court order. Despite the benefits, critics state the access to mugshots is important for journalistic coverage, freedom of speech and access to public information. Either way, public records laws in some states do not cover access to booking photographs to the public.

In May, 2018, two men, alleged owners of mugshots.com, received charges of their own in California for extortion, money laundering and identity theft in connection with mugshots.com. These arrests may be the beginning of the end for the "Google of Mugshots."

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