Mug shots as moneymaker gets committee attention

James D. Franklin, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association executive director, center, answers questions from House Civil Law Committee members Feb 26 during a discussion of two bills dealing with the regulation of booking photographs. Franklin is flanked by Rep. Kim Norton, left, sponsor of HF1940 and Rep. Pam Myhra, right, sponsor of HF1933. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Mug shots of those who have been arrested are popping up on commercial websites. They are being used as a moneymaker either through the ads sponsoring the web page or by requiring money from a person asking for the photo to be taken down.

This caught the attention of two House members – one a DFLer and the other a Republican —who seek to regulate the disclosure and publication of booking photos. However these actions, could butt up against the state’s Data Practices Act and create new processing costs for counties.

The House Civil Law Committee heard HF1940, sponsored by Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), and HF1933, sponsored by Rep. Pam Myhra(R-Burnsville). The bills were referred without recommendation to the House Public Safety Finance Committee for consideration.

House Civil Law Committee

Booking photos are considered public information, and anyone who has been arrested and booked may be surprised while surfing the Internet to find their mug shot, even if the charges against them were dropped or they were found not guilty. That happened to a constituent of Myhra’s.

“I’m very concerned. The bill seeks to prevent companies, individuals who are putting these mug shots online and asking for large sums of money for taking the photos down, and then putting them up on another website,” she said.

Norton called the schemes “online mug shot extortion.”

While some states have tried to regulate usage, companies have changed their practices and found new ways around the laws. One testifier warned that the bills in their current form do little to address the new schemes.

“My concern is that we are chasing something that doesn’t exist in its current form,” said Karmen McQuitty, an attorney with University of Minnesota Student Legal Services. “The way they are now getting money is by selling ads on the page. This opens up a bigger can of worms.” She recommends legislation giving people the ability to bring forward civil law suits against companies.

The Senate companion to Norton’s bill, SF1863, is sponsored by Sen. Chris Eaton(DFL-Brooklyn Center) and awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. There is no companion to Myhra’s bill.

  • This is a complicated issue. The mugshots are posted on line and published in newspapers dedicated to scandal. Here's a little background. - by Stephanie Fox on Fri, 02/28/2014 - 1:07pm

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Lee Ann Schutz Wahi

Lee Ann Wahi blogs at B-Ville News, "because telling Burnsville’s stories enriches my life."