Lawmakers, Credit Card Companies Take Aim at Mug Shot Websites

Mug Shot Websites Cashing In on Booking Photos?
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For people who find their faces splashed across mug shot websites, even if they were later found innocent of the crimes, it can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Now, lawmakers and even credit card companies are stepping in to help protect people from further humiliation.

Owners of mug shot websites will post the photos released by police departments with the person's name and information. Many then make money by charging people, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to have a mug shot removed. Dozens of these sites exist and can rack up clicks -- BustedMugshots.com alone boasts nearly three million viewers per month.

Michael Needham said the mug shot from his DUI arrest in Georgia ended up on one of these websites and now pops up with every Internet search of his name.

"Stuff follows you forever and it feels like I'm a little fish in a big pond," he said. "It's hard to fight these mug shot companies. It's hard, I don't even know who to turn to, to try to make these things go away."

The former ROTC cadet now runs a moving business and hires college students, but fears he will never escape his past.

"It's ridiculous to have one small chapter of your life affect a big portion of your life," he said.

What these websites are doing is considered legal. They stand behind "sunshine" laws that allow them to legally download booking photos and other open records from police websites, sometimes the very second those files are released. In some cases, the websites won't remove the mug shots even if the person was cleared of all charges.

And it can be hard to track down the site owners to ask to have the mug shot taken down. Often the contact information listed on these websites leads to dead ends.

Sophia Andrade said she felt violated by mug shot websites that legally published the booking photos from what she said was a false arrest from a domestic dispute. She said she was innocent, and the charge was later cleared from her record, but her mug shot remains online.

"It's like you can't move on with your life," she said. "I mean everybody goes to Google now to see who you are. ... I'm not a criminal. I'm not charged with anything."

When Andrade asked one of the mug shot websites to keep her photos private, she said they would do it if she paid them $399. She refused and while she was negotiating with one website, her mug shot showed up on others.

"Just to have that online, it's just a constant reminder of my nightmare," Andrade said. "It's not just that I take my photograph down on this site, it comes down on this site and it pops up somewhere else. Over and over again, so when does it stop? What am I paying for?"

When "Nightline" first told this story earlier this year, Georgia lawmaker Roger Bruce was pushing a bill that would make it a crime for a website to charge someone in Georgia to remove a mug shot photo. After our report, nearly every state lawmaker supported his bill and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law. Georgia joins a handful of states now trying to protect residents who have booking photos.

"Well, you can file a lawsuit now," Bruce said. "Basically what happens now is if your mug shot is out there and you call them, they have 30 days to remove it. If they don't remove it now they are in violation of the law."

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