Bill would put rules in place for published arrest photos

Would ban web publishers from charging removal fee

DENVER — Commercial websites that post arrest photographs and then charge people to have them taken down would be barred from that practice under a bill that won preliminary approval Monday in the Colorado House.

Under HB1047, introduced by Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, anyone who publishes such mug shots about an arrested person must remove that photo, for free, within 30 days upon request of that person if he or she is not charged, had charges dismissed or was acquitted.

Supporters of the measure say it’s an unfair business practice to hold someone’s reputation hostage, and require them to pay a fee to recover it.

But getting that Internet publisher to comply is problematic at best, opponents of the bill said.

Additionally, they are businesses trying to make a profit and should be allowed to do so, said Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada.

“These are legal businesses, none of them we have found reside in our state,” she said. “I don’t know if we can affect other states or other countries, and it violates the First Amendment.”

The only recourse in the bill that would help a person to getting a website publisher to comply would be to bring them to civil court, Becker said.

“As long as any business is considered to have minimum contact for doing business in this state, then the long-arm statutes would allow that person to be held accountable to our courts,” Becker said.

The practice of posting such photos on the Internet is a recent thing, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

While some will take down certain information for free, others charge a fee. Still, there’s no guarantee that would be the end of it, according to a December NCSL report on the issue.

Once such information reaches the Internet, it can be distributed to other groups, none of which are under any obligation to remove them if the arrested person pays that fee to the first website, the NCSL report says.

As a result, several states beyond Colorado have been considering similar measures. To date, five states, including Utah, have banned the practice.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said there may be a better way to get at the problem.

“I do recognize that there’s a problem here, but I believe the right answer is to restrict government, in this case law enforcement, as to when those mug shots are put on publicly accessible websites and why,” Holbert said. “To take this public information and then limit how the public can use that public information, I think is the wrong answer.”

The measure requires a final vote, which could come as early as today, before it can head to the Colorado Senate for more debate.



COMMENTS

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This bill would seem to have some serious First Amendment problems.

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