A new bill proposed by Florida legislator Carl Zimmermann seeks to end “mugshot websites,” a relatively new industry that exploits the marriage of the Internet and open records laws in order to make a profit. (See our prior posts on mugshot websites here, here, and here.) But while ending these sites may be a morally laudable goal, the proposed law is blatantly unconstitutional. Not only would it infringe upon the protected speech of these mugshot websites, it would also stifle a substantial amount of socially beneficial online speech, specifically crime reporting from legitimate news sources.
The proposed law, House Bill 677, would require “the operator of a website that contains the name and personal information, including any photograph or digital image,” of a person charged with a crime, within 15 days of receiving written notification that the person has been “acquitted or the charges are dropped or otherwise resolved without a conviction,” to remove the person’s name and personal information. Failure to comply would lead to a fine and, after 45 days, create “a presumption of defamation of character.” Under HB 677, a website operator may not ask for payment to remove content, but the bill would penalize websites regardless of whether they charged a fee — it targets content, not commercialization.