There is good news on the personal privacy and confidentiality front for individuals who have been charged with offenses in the state of North Carolina and subsequently seen their mugshots released without consent on the Internet. The North Carolina Senate just passed The 2014 Appropriations Act, a new budget bill which contains a special provision to restrict the public release of mugshots, plus prevent commercial businesses from soliciting payments from affected individuals to remove these images from the Internet.
The North Carolina Justice Center, a non-profit group that protects the interests of socially and economically disadvantaged citizens of the state, helped push this bill through the Senate. The group was concerned about the negative effects of mugshot websites on the economic and employment opportunities for North Carolina’s most impoverished citizens.
What Would Passage of the 2014 Appropriations Act Mean for Publishers of Online Mugshots?
On the down side, this bill only affects commercial websites that seek to profit from the dissemination of mugshots and arrest records, and the North Carolina House of Representatives has not yet voted on or passed the provision, which is necessary to codify it into actual law. Traditional news media websites are not covered by this particular bill, nor are government sponsored websites, so North Carolina mugshots can still be released to the public in various other ways.
The main goal of this North Carolina bill is to help citizens who were arrested yet never actually convicted of crimes so they can find jobs, attend educational institutions and apply for government benefits without barriers or defamation of character. Commercial websites that charge people to take down mugshots are akin to extortion, proponents of the bill say. The North Carolina House of Representatives votes on this Bill in several weeks. If passed, the new mugshots law would go into effect on December 1, 2014. This bill was modeled on a similar bill that passed in Utah.
If passed, North Carolina will be the ninth state to enact laws to restrict the activities of commercial mugshot websites, a victory for privacy advocates and innocent citizens who were accused of yet never convicted of crimes.
“Any publisher of a print publication or operator of an Internet website that contains criminal record information of a person charged with a crime shall, within 15 days after written notification from the person or the person’s designee, remove, or retract if removal is not possible, criminal record information and any other personal information if the person is acquitted or the charges are dropped or otherwise resolved without a conviction.”
- Criminal records amendment (Page 210)
The way this new law would work is any individuals who request mugshots from the North Carolina state government would be required to sign an affidavit proving these images will not be used for commercial purposes. Should the photo subsequently be released online anyway, the affected citizen would be able to request the publisher to take the image down from his/her site within 15 days or else be subject to hefty fines.
Unfortunately, individuals with North Carolina convictions on their records will not be able to utilize the provisions of the law to restrict access to their mugshots—only innocent or acquitted individuals are protected. Nevertheless, this bill is still an encouraging sign that more and more states are coming down hard on commercial mugshot websites that make money off of defaming innocent citizens.
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