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“We need it codified in Minnesota, and we need enforcement,” said McQuitty, who works with students whose careers or studies in graduate programs can be jeopardized by such sites before they begin.
In addition to laws, other steps are being taken to slow the sites’ momentum. Google recently introduced an algorithm change that buries the search from such websites. Credit card companies are cutting ties with the sites, leaving them unable to accept payment.
Those efforts may be having an effect. Bustedmugshots.com, once one of the most popular such sites, no longer accepts payment for mug shot removal. Instead, an online notice says the mug shot will be removed only if the record is sealed or expunged, or if the person dies. The company now sells subscriptions to its databases, saying it “empowers citizens” to “be proactive in the ongoing fight against crime.”
‘How do you sleep at night?’
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, a former corrections officer and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the concept of such sites is somewhat new to him and that it’s too early to take a stand on whether it should be addressed in new legislation.
“My first reaction is that if you have victimized an innocent citizen in the state of Minnesota and your actions resulted in an arrest and conviction, then you are subject to lose some of your civil rights and an element of your privacy,” Limmer said. However, he added, the business practices of for-profit mug shot sites “seem extreme.”
Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, a prosecutor who heads the House Civil Law Committee, said the “irresponsible use of public data should be addressed.” If companies are going to use the data without regard to the due process rights of the accused, he said, “we need to have a discussion about the purpose of public data.”
So far, Minneapolismug shots.org is standing firm on what it considers its First Amendment rights. It offers a simple “No,” on whether photos will be removed if a case is resolved in the arrestee’s favor.
An FAQ on the company’s website includes this final question: “How do you sleep at night?”
The response: “Just like you. In a bed. Cuddling with freedom of speech, an American flag, and the King James Bible.”
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921