Florida mugshots websites under new scrutiny

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAP NEWS/WCJB) - Legislation signed by the Governor seeks to block websites from profiting from official mugshots. The aim is to stop companies from profiting when bad things happen to good people.

Blake Mathesie 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. New Legislation signed by the Governor now allows people to make a written request to have a mugshot removed.

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State Senator Aaron Bean was the sponsor.”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 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 first.

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

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

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