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Mug Shots: Government Transparency or Public Shaming?

Florida has a long-standing tradition, since 1909, to make sure that all government business is laid bare to the constituents. This means that for more than 100 years, Florida has made available all records, which includes images and videos, to the public barring a few tailored exceptions. The understanding is that all business is the public’s business, and the privacy interests of the public is outweighed by the government’s view that transparency is a necessity. The Florida legislature has even gone as far ensuring that where laws are passed that limit disclosure to the public, the laws will sunset within five years and must be reauthorized at that point. This is one of the reasons why Florida has strongly espoused the posting of criminal mug shots on its websites.

Privacy Concerns Surrounding Mugshots

There have been serious privacy concerns when it comes to public mug shots. Mug shots that are published go beyond police administration; its purpose is to reveal to the population those who have been arrested for committing crimes – inherently a mechanism to publicly shame those whose images are available for all to witness. Many believe that the utility of posting mugshots is now obsolete; in the past, publication of mugshots was to inform the public of any man or woman who posed a public safety concern in the immediate future. However, now, the photos remain posted for perpetuity on the Internet where they may be accessed for years, possibly the rest of the life of the person captured in the photo. There is also a concern that the mug shots publicly shame the innocent due to the fact that the mugshots are of those who have been arrested, but have not been prosecuted for a crime.

Mugshots as a Form of Extortion

There are also privacy concerns regarding those who use the mug shots as a way to earn cash. Though the mug shots generally are online only for a few days as mandated by police agencies, commercial websites have been popping up, pulling the images, and leaving the mug shots up until the suspect pays them a large fee to take them down. This industry, though lucrative, is coming up against the Florida legislature, which is looking to make it a first-degree misdemeanor for any person or commercial entity to profit off of the mug shots and arrest records of criminal defendants. Both the House and Senate bills outlawing the use of the mug shots and criminal arrest records as extortion have been extinguished back in May 2014, but in other jurisdictions and circuit courts, there have been considerable strides in curtailing mug shot publication.

Future of Mugshot Publication?

The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, ruled that there is no federal requirement to automatically release mug shots for public viewing. The holding reflected the fact that the Internet has changed the extent to which these mug shots affect privacy rights. In the past, the booking photo would have little to no avenue through which to make the public rounds; now, however, the Internet has the ability to allow this mug shot and the person’s damaging history to follow him/her around and continually disparage his/her reputation. Though this ruling only impacts the states within the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit, this may be fodder for the movement against full publication of the criminal arrest records and mugshots and a step in support of privacy rights.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a serious crime, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can help guide you through the legal proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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