House passes mug-shot websites bill on second reading

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

Despite First Amendment concerns, the Colorado House on Monday approved Rep. KC Becker’s bill to stop Internet sites from charging fees to take down booking photos.

The mug-shot measure, HB 14-1047, received 36 ayes on a second-reading division vote, which requires House members to stand and be counted.

The bill would require that commercial websites remove a booking photo free of charge if the arrested person makes a request in writing and that person was not charged with a crime, charges were dropped, the person was acquitted or the person’s criminal record has been sealed. A website could be sued for damages for failing to comply.

“I do find this to be a problematic thing, and I’ve wrestled with it in my own mind,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs. “Is this something that is, under the First Amendment, constitutionally permissible?”

Becker, a Boulder Democrat, noted that an official with the Colorado Attorney General’s office raised no First Amendment concerns during testimony during a committee hearing last week. However, the public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado told that committee she believes HB 14-1047 runs afoul of commercial free-speech protections.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said “the better fix” may be to address when sheriff departments are allowed to release booking photos, which are public records in Colorado. The commercial websites targeted by Becker’s bill publish photos that are scraped from jail websites.

“Maybe those law enforcement agencies are putting mug shots on publicly accessible websites too urgently,” Holbert said. “Maybe the right answer is to withhold (them) until there’s some conviction or until the last appeal is exhausted.”

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