Colorado bill prevents use of jail mug shots for extortion
Individuals requesting copies of mug shots from police must sign a statement annually, ensuring that they will not require a fee to take the photos down, according to a Colorado law that went into effect July 1.
“If you’ve seen those websites where they ask for mug shots, it costs $50 to take it down,” said Taneil Ilano, spokeswoman for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “We would like to avoid providing mug shots so people can financially gain from those.”
The bill is an updated version of a law that passed last year, intended to protect arrestees from extortion through websites asking them to pay a large fee to have their photo removed. With the amendment, instead of asking for a signed statement with each photo request, law enforcement would only need one form to cover all requests for the duration of a year, provided they are not for monetary gain.
“I had read an article about the issue and someone contacted me about it so I looked into it more,” said Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, the primary bill sponsor. “I started noticing websites like mugshotsonline.com or mugshots.com. What was happening is some individuals would take the photos, post them, and charge everyone to have their mug shot taken down. Then they would create a new website and do that over and over.”
The updated bill, which was signed into law in March, saw bipartisan support in both the Colorado House and Senate. It was also backed by County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Press Association, who worked to craft an amendment to streamline the process.
“It’s a win-win for the media and a win-win for law enforcement,” said Chris Johnson, director of County Sheriffs of Colorado. “Law enforcement is not here to line the nests of people who want mug shots.”
While he worked as sheriff for Otero County, Johnson said that he had seen requests for mug shots from Florida, asking for all photos taken during a specific period of time, without any specifics.
“Why would anyone in Florida be interested in mug shots from Colorado?” Johnson asked. “They just want to see who will send them stuff they can use.”
Becker added that one lobbyist told her several counties received the same request for mug shots.
“They were asking for a disc of the entire history of all of the mug shots in that entire county,” Becker said. “The real injustice is that some people may have never been convicted, but their mug shot is still online. It could affect anything from dating to being able to rent an apartment to getting a job.”
The records request form, which is valid for a year, must be submitted to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
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