Senate blesses crack down on online mugshot companies
The new law takes effect July 1. Image via Adobe.

Mugshot of criminal
The bill now awaits House consideration.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would tighten regulations on companies that publish mugshots online, marking the Legislature’s latest and strongest swing against the controversial industry.

Under a Senate proposal (SB 1046) sponsored by Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, mugshot publishers would be required to remove booking photos if requested by the person featured in the image.

The bill also creates noncompliance penalties. The publisher must remove the photo within 10 days of written notice or face a daily $1,000 penalty.

Lawmakers advanced the legislation without questions or debate. The bill, which makes exception for the media, now awaits House consideration.

Notably, this isn’t the Legislature’s first swipe at mugshot websites.

In 2017, lawmakers passed a measure to prohibit mugshot specific websites from charging — or extorting — to remove booking photos. Publishers, however, found loopholes.

Speaking at a House committee, Republican Rep. Jason Fischer, sponsor of the House companion bill, explained that websites now use bots to fish for mugshots and then collect ad revenue from web traffic.

The process, he added, can spell harm for those photographed.

According to a staff analysis, a published mugshot can be an obstacle to employment as 77% of employers google their job applicant’s name.

And efforts to get ahead of the photos, the staff analysis adds, can be difficult.

“Photos posted on one site may also be reposted to other sites, causing continuing harm to the reputation of the individual,” the staff analysis says.

The Senate and House proposal are the fruits of a Florida State University law student who worked with sponsors to challenge the state’s mugshot ecosystem.

Blake Mathesie, a second-year law student, told Florida Politics in March that he met with lawmakers in 2020 to suggest the legislation.

“The publication of these mug shots not only violates due process, but it hurts the personal and professional prospects of those affected,” Mathesie said. “A mug shot is taken at the lowest point in someone’s life.”

If signed into law, the bills would take effect July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.

One comment

  • Concerned Citizen

    April 17, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    I’m sorry, this is just silly. This is kind of like a Trump supporter saying: “I’m tired of all those liberals, so I’ve got a great idea – let’s pass a law that says it’s illegal to be a Democrat! Woo hooo! That’ll finally make America great, right?”

    Wrong. America does not work like this. It is not legal to banish speech in this country just because you disagree with it. For that reason, if SB 1046 passes, let me make this promise — it will IMMEDIATELY be struck down as unconstitutional. There is ZERO chance the law will survive. None whatsoever.

    Don’t believe me? Here, read this: Brayshaw v. City of Tallahassee, Fla., 709 F.Supp.2d 1244 (M.D.Fla. 2010)

    I’ll summarize for you — a few years ago, some genius decided it would be a good idea to pass a law that made it illegal to publish the home addresses of police officers in the State of Florida. Some guy was arrested and charged with violating this law. He sued in federal court arguing the law was unconstitutional.

    Result = the law was struck down as unconstitutional on its face.

    The bottom line is that states CANNOT pass laws that prohibit speech if that speech is protected by the First Amendment. And guess what friends? The U.S. Supreme Court has already held that the First Amendment protects speech on matters of public record (like mugshots and other court records).

    So, if Florida passes SB 1046, here’s what’s going to happen — it will immediately be struck down, and the taxpayers of Florida will end up paying a bunch of legal fees to whomever sues and wins that case (in an action to strike down an unconstitutional law, the loser generally must pay the winner’s legal fees).

    If people REALLY think that mugshots shouldn’t be published, then there is a very simple solution for that — make it illegal for the police to take mugshots or at least prohibit the police from releasing them. That type of law IS constitutional and it would completely solve this “problem”.

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