Is It Legal When Websites Publish Your Mugshot?

If you meet someone new—a potential employee, babysitter, neighbor, or date—and you want to learn more about the person, what do you do? If you are like many Americans, you turn on the computer and type the name into your favorite search engine. If that person has ever been arrested, a booking photo or mugshot might appear near the top of the search results, even if the person was never convicted of a crime. Mugshot websites that show up in these searches can cause a lot of hassle and heartache for people whose photos are posted. But are the operators of these sites breaking the law?

The short answer is that posting booking photos online is not necessarily illegal. Booking photos are often part of the public record. But where such sites may run afoul of the law is by charging people to remove their photos from the Internet. Amid allegations that mugshot websites are extorting people by charging for photo removal, courts and legislators have started paying more attention to businesses that profit from this kind of model.

Booking photos are taken when a person is arrested. Once the photo is taken, the police department that made the arrest keeps the photo for its own records. Local police departments also sometimes publish arrest records on their own websites, although often only for a short period of time.

The way that courts and legislatures view mugshots looks to be evolving in the age of the Internet. In 1996, a federal appeals court found that criminal defendants didn’t have a privacy interest in their booking photos. The court held that booking photos of defendants who had appeared in court during ongoing proceedings had to be released pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. In 2016, the same court overruled that 1996 decision, stating that people do indeed have a “non-trivial privacy interest in their booking photos.”

In 2017, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that requires websites that publish mug shots to take them down upon request if the person pictured is not convicted. To remove mug shots, the new law will allow a person to write a website to request the image be taken down, and the company will be required to do so within 10 days or face a daily $1,000 fine. The law also allows for civil action to be taken.

Having your mugshot on the Internet for the world to see can have serious consequences. If you have an issue with a website publishing your mugshot please don’t hesitate to contact us at Carlos Gonzalez Law.

 For any questions or concerns regarding your case please call our office at (786) 358-6888