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Bill would outlaw mug shot publishing websites in California

California could become the next state to restrict the publishing of jail booking photos by websites for commercial purposes.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) on Friday introduced legislation that would outlaw websites that publish mug shots and arrest records and charge money to remove them. 

The bill would not restrict the distribution of mug shots and arrest records to media outlets and interested individuals.

Mug shot publishing websites are part of a growing cottage industry; the sites make money reminding people of their run-ins with the law. They operate legally, but several lawsuits have been filed in at least three states alleging that the practice of charging people to remove records from the sites is tantamount to extortion.

Website operators cull photos and arrest records from law enforcement agencies across the country and post them online. In theory, getting a photo taken down is easy -- if people are willing to cough up as much as several hundred dollars.

“This practice amounts to extortion,” Hill said in a statement. “We’re all accountable for our behavior, but that doesn’t mean someone should make money by spreading your booking photo around the world -- especially if you were never convicted of a crime.”

The proliferation of these types of websites in recent years has prompted legislation in some states to curb the industry.

Utah, for instance, enacted legislation in May that prohibits people from using jail booking photos unless the person requesting the records signs a statement swearing the photos won't be posted online and a fee charged to take them down. Legislation is advancing in New Jersey that would prohibit the publishing of booking photos if the person arrested has not been convicted.

In a statement, Hill cited the example of Robert DeBrino, a film producer who was arrested in January 2013 in Glendale on suspicion of driving under the influence of methadone and Adderall. No charges were filed: The L.A. County district attorney's office rejected the case. 

Nonetheless, the publishing of his booking photo hurt him financially as business deals collapse, according to Hill's statement.  

Just Mugshots, a website that was the subject of a recent lawsuit in California, did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment Friday.  

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