Websites could be forced to delete some mugshots

Published On: Feb 13 2013 12:40:52 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 13 2013 01:08:41 PM EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

A Florida legislator wants websites to delete arrest photos if the person is later found not guilty or if the charges are dropped.

Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, this week filed the bill that requires all websites to delete mugshots within 15 days of being notified that the charges did not result in a conviction.

The bill (HB 677) would subject the website operator to fines and even a defamation lawsuit if they did not comply with the request. The website could not charge anything to remove the photo.

Zimmermann, who teaches broadcast journalism to high school students, said people have the right to publish information. But they also have a responsibility to act once it is proven false.

"The right thing to do is to have that information taken down right away," he said.

He said he decided to sponsor the bill after talking to a Pinellas County woman who was wrongfully arrested. She was told by website operators that they would remove her arrest photo if she paid them $300 first.

Zimmermann called such a request "extortion." He added that websites that keep up the arrest photos once someone is found innocent are actually "libeling" people.

The proposed legislation, however, does not differentiate between government-run websites, news websites or those operated by commercial website operators.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said she understands what Zimmermann is attempting to do, but says the bill is "unconstitutional."

Other states have been looking at the problem. A sheriff in Utah has stopped releasing mugshots to stop them from being posted by websites. An Ohio lawyer has filed a class-action lawsuit against some of the websites.