Back 

Mug Shots and Booking Photo Websites

Mug Shots and Booking Photo Websites

6/12/2014

Overview

Recently, booking or arrest photographs (mug shots) obtained from law enforcement websites have been reposted on commercial websites, some of which charge a fee to have the photographs removed. Some sites will remove photos at no cost for those who can show that charges were dropped or that they were found not guilty; others charge a fee. Once on the web, however, the photographs can be copied and redistributed by other sites, and individuals who had charges dropped or were found not guilty can find it difficult to repair their online reputations.

Several states have addressed these concerns recently by prohibiting sites from charging fees for the removal of mug shots from a web site or otherwise regulating these sites' practices. Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Utah in 2013 enacted legislation to address these concerns by prohibiting 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. Legislation has been enacted in ColoradoGeorgia, and Wyoming in 2014.

Critics of legislation, however, note that access to mug shots are an important part of journalistic coverage, freedom of speech and the public’s right to know. Journalists and others assert that mug shots should remain in the public realm, and a recent New Jersey bill would specifically provide that booking photographs are to remain public record. Current New Jersey law does not specifically address the availability of mugshots to the public, so their release is left to the discretion of investigative agencies. The bill aims to create a uniform policy for how mugshots are made available to the public.

Recently, private companies also have taken action against some of the websites that charge fees to remove mug shots. MasterCard, American Express and Discover reportedly are cutting ties with the sites, and Google changed its search algorithms so that the sites do not show up as prominently in search results.

PLEASE NOTE: NCSL cannot provide assistance with individual cases. NCSL serves state legislators and their staff. This site provides general comparative information only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice. Please check individual legislative websites for the most current status, summaries and versions of bill text.

2014 Legislation

At least 14 states have introduced or have pending legislation, and legislation has been enacted in Colorado, Georgia, and Wyoming so far in 2014. 

Alabama
H.B. 135
Status: Failed
Requires the operator of a website publishing an arrest photograph of an individual to remove the photograph and personal information within a specified period upon notice of acquittal or other resolution of the charges without a conviction; provides that failure to remove a photograph and information is a deceptive trade practice; provides remedies for violations.

California
S.B. 1027
Prohibits a person who publishes criminal record information via print or electronic means from soliciting or accepting a fee or other consideration to remove, correct, or modify that information. Establishes civil penalties for violations.

Colorado
H.B. 1047
Status: April 15, 2014; Signed by Governor, Chapter 115
Concerns restrictions on the publishing of basic identification information on commercial web sites.

Florida
H.B. 265
Status: Failed
Criminal Record Information; Defines "criminal record information"; prohibits person engaged in publishing or otherwise disseminating criminal record information from soliciting or accepting payment of fee or other consideration to remove, correct, or modify such information

H.B. 619
Status: Failed
Relates to websites containing information concerning persons charged with crimes; provides that publication of specified  photographs of subject individuals made in this state on website for purposes of commerce is deemed to be transaction of business in this state; requires removal of photograph from website without fee or compensation upon request by subject individual; provides requirements for request.

S.B. 298
Status: Failed
Relates to booking photographs; prohibits an individual or business entity from soliciting, charging, or collecting compensation for the removal of a booking photograph or other information related to a criminal charge or conviction from the Internet or other public medium; requires an individual or business entity that publishes booking photographs or criminal record information on an Internet website or other public medium to provide contact information

Georgia
H.B. 150
Status: May 6, 2014; Signed by Governor, Act 188
Relates to the Fair Business Practices Act; changes provisions relating to prohibited telemarketing and Internet activities; prohibits certain persons from collecting a fee for removing certain individuals' arresting booking photographs from a website; provides for related matters.

H.B. 845
Status: April 24, 2014; Signed by Governor. Act 627
Prohibits an arresting law enforcement agent or agency from posting booking photographs to or on a website except as required for publication and for the State Sexual Offender Registry; prohibits providing a copy of a booking photograph in any format to a person requesting photograph if booking photograph may be placed in a publication or posted to a website or transferred to a person to be placed in a publication or posted to a website; provides requirements for persons requesting a booking photograph.

Kentucky
H.B. 51
tatus: Failed-adjourned.
Prohibits a person from using a booking photograph for a commercial purpose if that photograph will be posted in a publication or on a Web site, and the removal of the booking photograph requires the payment of a fee or other consideration; defines booking photograph; includes the misuse of booking photographs as a violation.

S.B. 95
tatus: Failed-adjourned.
Relates to criminal records; 61.884 to prohibit a person from using criminal records, including booking photographs, for a commercial purpose if that information will be posted in a publication or on a Web site, and the removal of the information requires the payment of a fee or other consideration; defines booking photograph; includes misuse of a criminal records as a violation.

Minnesota
H.B. 1933
Relates to data practices; regulates disclosure of booking photographs.

H.B. 1940
Relates to data practices; relates to books and photographs.

S.B. 1863
Relates to data practices; relates to booking photographs.

Missouri
H.B. 1335
Prohibits businesses from requiring payment to remove a booking photograph and includes a petition process for an individual to have his or her booking photograph removed from the website.

H.B. 1665
Status: May 30, 2014; Sent to Governor.
Requires a person publishing an arrest booking photograph on his or her internet website to remove such photograph upon the request of the individual whose photograph was published.

New Jersey
A.B. 2064
Exempts mugshots of arrestees who have not been convicted of the underlying offense from State's open public records law.

A.B. 2177
This bill would clarify that the booking photographs taken of a defendant after an arrest, commonly referred to as mugshots, are to be available to the public under the State's open public records law. Current law does not specifically address the availability of mugshots to the public. Instead, decisions on whether to release mugshots are left to the discretion of investigative agencies, allowing inconsistent policies on the release of these records to be applied throughout the State. This bill would provide a uniform policy that all mugshots are to be made available to the public.

A.B. 2832
Prohibits a person from charging a fee to stop publishing personal identifying information obtained through the criminal justice system.

S.B. 961
Prohibits a person from charging a fee to stop publishing personal identifying information obtained through the criminal justice system.

New York
A.B. 8731
Relates to when booking photographs taken after arrest of a person or the defendant shall be made publicly available.

S.B. 3384
Provides for the application for sealing a record of conviction; establishes waiting periods for various certain agencies to maintain records; may be unsealed at the time of an arrest; prohibits the publication of sealed records; prohibits the waiver of this section at plea.

North Carolina
S.B. 744
Prohibits law enforcement agencies from providing a copy of a booking photograph if the photograph will be placed in a publication or posted to a website that requires payment of a fee for removal of the photograph.

South Carolina
S.B. 700
Relates to the destruction of records where charges have been dismissed; provides that a person or entity who publishes on the person or entity's publicly available website a mug shot of a person whose charges have been discharged, dismissed, or the person has been found not guilty, shall, without fee or compensation, remove the mug shot from the person or entity's website within thirty days of the person sending a written request to the person or entity.

Virginia
S.B. 137
Status: Pending - carryover.
Relates to arrest photos on Internet; makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for the owner of a website to post both an arrest photo and solicit, request, or accept money for removing the photograph.

S.B. 286
Status: Failed
Relates to arrest photos on Internet; makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor for the owner of a website to both post an arrest photo and solicit, request, or accept money for removing the photograph.

Wyoming
S.B. 53, Act 35
Status: March 10, 2014; Signed by Governor. Chapter 98
Relates to trade practices; provides for removal of arrest photographs from websites as specified; provides for penalties; provides for an effective date.

2013 Legislation

Since 2012, several states have considered or passed legislation related to the release of booking photographs or mug shots, including legislation that requires removal of mug shots if criminal charges are dropped or prohibits charges for removing photographs.

At least nine states and the District of Columbia introduced legislation in 2013. Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, Texas and Utah enacted legislation.

Florida
H.B. 265
Status: Nov. 5, 2013; Filed.
Criminal Record Information; Defines "criminal record information"; prohibits person engaged in publishing or otherwise disseminating criminal record information from soliciting or accepting payment of fee or other consideration to remove, correct, or modify such information

H.B. 677
Status: May 3, 2013; In House. Died in committee.
Relates to websites containing information concerning persons charged with crimes; requires that operators of websites containing personal information of persons charges with crimes remove person's name and information within specified period after notice that person is acquitted or charges are dropped or otherwise resolved without conviction; provides civil penalty; provides for presumption of defamation.

S.B. 298
Status: Nov. 4, 2013; In Senate: Referred to Criminal Justice; Commerce and Tourism; Rules
Prohibits an individual or business entity from soliciting, charging, or collecting compensation for the removal of a booking photograph or other information related to a criminal charge or conviction from the Internet or other public medium; requiring an individual or business entity that publishes booking photographs or criminal record information on an Internet website or other public medium to provide certain contact information, etc.

Georgia
H.B. 150
Status: May 6, 2013; Signed by Governor, Act No. 188 
Relates to the Fair Business Practices Act; changes provisions relating to prohibited telemarketing and Internet activities; prohibits certain persons from collecting a fee for removing certain individuals' arresting booking photographs from a website; provides for related matters.

Illinois
S.B. 115
Status: Aug. 27, 2013; Public Act 98-0555
Amends the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. Provides that it is an unlawful practice for any person engaged in publishing or otherwise disseminating criminal record information through a print or electronic medium to solicit or accept the payment of a fee or other consideration to remove, correct, or modify said criminal record information. Defines "criminal record information". Amends the State Records Act and the Local Records Act. Makes conforming changes.

New Jersey
A.B. 3906
Status: Nov. 18, 2013; Reported out of Assembly Comm. with Amendments, 2nd Reading
Exempts mugshots of arrestees who have not been convicted of the underlying offense from State's open public records law.

A.B. 4083
Status: May 6, 2013, Introduced, Referred to Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
Requires public release of photographs of arrestees under State’s open public records law.

S.B. 3046
Status: Nov. 14, 2013; Introduced in the Senate, Referred to Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Exempts mugshots of arrestees who have not been convicted of the underlying offense from State's open public records law.

Oregon
H.B. 3467
Status: June 6, 2013, Chaptered. Chapter No. 330
Requires individual seeking disclosure of photographic records of arrested person from law enforcement agency to submit written request to agency, in person and with payment of fees; limits scope of each request to photographic records of one arrested person; prohibits law enforcement agencies from publishing photographic records of arrested persons on Internet.

South Carolina
S.B. 700
Status: May 15, 2013, Introduced. To Senate Committee on Judiciary.
Relates to the destruction of records where charges have been dismissed; provides that a person or entity who publishes on the person or entity's publicly available website a mug shot of a person whose charges have been discharged, dismissed, or the person has been found not guilty, shall, without fee or compensation, remove the mug shot from the person or entity's website within thirty days of the person sending a written request to the person or entity.

South Dakota
H.B. 1109
Status: Failed.
Provides that criminal booking photos and police logs are open records.

Texas
H.B. 2861
Status: April 9, 2013, Left pending in committee.
Relates to certain business entities engaged in the publication, republication, or other dissemination of mug shots and other information regarding the involvement of an individual in the criminal justice system; provides a civil penalty. Provides an avenue to dispute records.

S.B. 1289
Status: July 30, 2013, Filed with Secretary of State, Chap. 1200
Regulates business entities engaged in the publication or other dissemination of mug shots and other personal identifying information regarding the involvement of an individual in the criminal justice system; provides a civil penalty for violations. Provides an avenue to dispute records.

Utah
H.B. 408
Status: April 26, 2013; Chaptered. Chapter No. 404
Enacts a provision relating to photographs of criminal suspects; prohibits county sheriffs from providing a copy of a booking photograph to a person if the photograph will be placed in a publication or posted on a website that requires a payment in order to remove the photograph; requires a person requesting a copy of a booking photograph to sign a statement that the photograph will not be placed in a publication or on a website that requires payment in order to remove the photograph; relates to penalties.

District of Columbia
B. 73
Status: Jan. 22, 2013. To Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Requires the Metropolitan Police Department to release photographs of arrested individuals to the public.

2012 Legislation

Louisiana
2012 S.B. 452
Status: Failed
Provides that the booking photograph of any person arrested for an alleged offense held by law enforcement agencies and communication districts will be disclosed upon request.

Washington
2012 H.B. 1689
Status: Failed
Requires department of corrections officers and chief law enforcement officers to maintain a jail register that is open to the public and includes booking photographs of each person after charges have been filed.

 

Public Records Background

In many states, government records generally are presumed to be open unless specific exemptions in law prevent their release. In many states, public records laws do not specifically exempt or address mug shots, meaning they may be considered public. For example, a December 2012 Oklahoma Attorney General Opinion concluded that mug shots are open records under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

Other states' public records laws specifically address booking/arrest photographs or mug shots, such as the following:

  • Minnesota Stat. §13.82 (26) (e.g., provides that a booking photo is public data, but may be withheld if the agency determines that access will adversely affect an active investigation)
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706 (e.g., adult arrestee photographs taken during the initial intake following the arrest and as part of the routine booking procedure must be released, except when necessary to avoid jeopardizing an investigation in felony cases)

Other state laws also address the release of mug shots by law enforcement agencies. For example:

  • South Carolina Code § 17-1-40(A) (records, including photographs must be destroyed and not retained by law enforcement agencies if an arrest record is dismisses or expunged)
  • Haw. Rev. Stat. § 831-3.2(e) (provides that any person entitled to an expungement order hereunder may by written application also request return of all fingerprints or photographs taken in connection with the person's arrest. See also Attorney General opinion regarding the law.)

StateNet logo

Share this: 
We are the nation's most respected bipartisan organization providing states support, ideas, connections and a strong voice on Capitol Hill.

NCSL Member Toolbox

Denver

7700 East First Place
Denver, CO 80230
Tel: 303-364-7700 | Fax: 303-364-7800

Washington

444 North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 515
Washington, D.C. 20001
Tel: 202-624-5400 | Fax: 202-737-1069

Copyright 2014 by National Conference of State Legislatures