2 websites will stop billing people to take down mug shots in settlement reached in Ohio suit
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Two Internet sites that make money by posting millions of mug shots of people who've been arrested have agreed to stop charging them to take down their photos as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit came about after a number of complaints from people who said the websites were charging hundreds of dollars to remove the mug shots even if the cases against those arrested had been dropped.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania while legislators in Georgia and Utah have passed laws aimed at stopping the sites from charging to remove arrest photos. Lawmakers in California are considering a similar proposal.
But efforts to rein in the sites have been complicated by questions about whether the attempts infringe on First Amendment rights and the difficulty of tracking down who owns the sites, some of which claim to originate from outside the country.
Attorney Scott Ciolek, who filed the lawsuit in Ohio, says the practice of charging a fee to remove the mug shots amounts to extortion. Eliminating that part of the business model will make it difficult for them to operate, he said.
Joseph Centrich, an attorney for the company that runs BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com, said the sites will continue to operate and post arrest and criminal records but won't charge to remove the images.
The mug shot sites' operator uses programs to easily collect information from hundreds of police websites and post them online without verifying whether the charges have been dropped or later dismissed.