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Proposal aims to stop mug-shot posting for profit

DENVER – Companies that post people’s police mug shots online and then charge for their removal would face criminal penalties under a bill advanced Monday in the Colorado Senate.

The measure comes as several states are considering legislation addressing the issue. In some cases, companies charge hundreds of dollars to remove booking photos from their websites.

Lawmakers have likened the practice to extortion, and say the online postings damage the reputation of people who sometimes are never convicted of the crime for which they were arrested. As a result, people have trouble getting jobs or renting apartments, lawmakers say.

However, states that have tried to address the issue have run into First Amendment concerns. Mug shots are public record, so Colorado’s bill will not prevent anyone from obtaining them. But to get a booking photo, people will have to sign a statement declaring it won’t be used for financial gain.

Under the bill, obtaining mug shots to make profit would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, the measure’s sponsor, said she realizes it won’t completely block companies from getting people’s mug shots.

“But it does take away the incentives for these companies to get them, because their main goal seems to be to make business out of these mug shots by charging someone to remove the picture,” she said.

The Senate gave initial approval to the bill Monday with a voice vote. A final vote is still needed, but no one in the chamber spoke in opposition, and the proposal is expected to pass.

The bill already has cleared the House, but it’s been changed substantially so it will need to be reconsidered in that chamber. As introduced, the bill would’ve required commercial websites to remove people’s mug shots for free, at their request, if they were never convicted of the crime for which they were arrested.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 13 states have introduced legislation this year that addresses mug shots posted for profit. They include Florida, California, Kentucky and Minnesota. Wyoming signed its bill into law this month.

Last year, five states, including Utah and Georgia, passed laws on the topic, the organization said.

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