Mugshot websites under new scrutiny after Florida law signed

Legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to block websites from profiting from official mugshots.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to block websites from profiting from official mugshots.

Blake Mathesie, who pushed for the legislation, was bartending at a Gainesville bar in the wee hours of September morning in 2018. When a fight broke out, he hopped the bar to break it up.

But two weeks later he found himself in handcuffs.

“Four or five police cars show up at my house, and they said you are being arrested for a felony battery,” said Mathesie.

Months later a judge, in a nine-page ruling, found Blake had done nothing wrong.

“But my mugshot was now online forever,” said Mathesie.

Efforts to get it down went nowhere.

“I had it brought up in a job interview before. You know it’s like the elephant in the room,” said Mathesie.

In 2017, Florida made it illegal for a website to hold a mugshot hostage by requiring payment for its removal. Then the websites switched to an ad-based business model. The new legislation now allows people to make a written request to have a mugshot removed.

State Senator Aaron Bean, who represents Nassau County and parts of Duval County, was the sponsor of SB 1046.

”This bill kinda closes a loophole. It says you can’t be a for-profit website generating ad revenue for the sole purpose of embarrassing people,” said Bean.

But even Bean acknowledges his bill won’t completely shut down the mugshot industry.

“This is not going to one hundred percent solve the problem. These are bad guys. Their websites are offshore,” said Bean.

So the fight is not over for Mathesie, who will enter his final year of law school at FSU this fall.

”If we can make these bots that these sites use non-operable, well, then we’ll win. And the way to do that is not to have these sheriff’s agencies post them online,” said Mathesie. The legislation carries a $1,000 fine for not removing a mugshot. The legislation takes effect October 1.

The legislation requires a written request to be sent to the website by registered mail.

The site then has 10 days to respond, or start the clock running on $1,000-a-day fines.

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