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New Florida Law Makes It Harder For Private Websites To Keep Certain Mugshots

Close-up of a person's hands on the keyboard of a MacBook
Glenn Carstens-Peters

A new Florida law seeks to make it easier for people to get their mugshots removed from certain websites. It’s the only bill from the 2017 legislative session to take effect this month.

“If anyone googles my name, the first image that will appear is my mugshot from my arrest.,” said Matt Gaetz.

Back in 2014, Gaetz represented a portion of Northwest Florida as a state lawmaker.

Now, the Republican has a much higher profile as a Congressman who can also be seen on different Fox News segments. So, if you google his name now, other pictures of him come up first that aren’t his mugshot.

That wasn’t the case a few years ago.

Gaetz was arrested in 2008 for Driving Under the Influence, and admits he made a mistake.

“And, I’m of the view that that is part of who I am. I made bad decisions that resulted in arrest,” he added. “And, that is sort of something that we all live with, and I think increasingly we’re all living our lives online, particularly this youngest generation going through school now. And, the things that occur will be available to the public to see in one form or another.”

Gaetz spoke those words during a 2014 hearing of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee—a committee he chaired. His panel had just heard a bill (HB 265) dealing with the removal of mugshots.

But, the bipartisan measure died during that legislative session.

A similar bill did get through the 2017 legislation session (SB 118)  then sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota).

Because local law enforcement agencies put mugshots on their websites as a public record, private websites can do the same. Steube wanted to correct that for those not convicted of a crime.

“It allows you to send them notice, for them to take the pictures down, and, if they don’t, it’s a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” said Steube, at the time.

Some sites charge a fee to take those photos down. Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) argued that’s wrong.

“There’s a number of websites out there that will display a person’s mugshot even if the person was found not guilty or the charges were dropped,” he said. “Many of these sites, such as mugshot.com charge a fee to remove the photo. The bill prohibits an entity that posts such photos from soliciting a fee to remove them and requires the entity to remove a photo within ten days of receiving a written request.”

The law only applies to those that accept a fee to take down the mugshot. If found in violation, a company could face a fine or lawsuit.

The 2017 bill had contained a provision allowing for those found innocent of a crime to expunge their records. It passed in both chambers of the Florida legislature and was sent to the Governor for approval.

But, in a letter, Governor Rick Scott said he would not sign that part into law because a public records exemption bill tied to that provision did not pass the 2017 legislative session.

So, the new law with only the mugshot removal provision intact took effect July 1st.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.