Texas mugshot websites must comply with requests for removal

Mar 7, 2014

Rep. Steve Stockman recently got a taste of what it means to have one’s mugshot and booking report published online. He was a victim of a burgeoning niche of online outlets that republish booking photos, names and other details from government websites regardless whether that individual has ever been convicted of a crime.

Those types of websites are usually privately run. Stockman claims to be the victim of a “pro-John Cornyn superPAC” that illicitly published his records and erroneously claimed that Stockman has been convicted of a crime. In light of this incident it’s almost ironic that the Texas legislature recently passed a new law requiring websites to change or remove incorrect criminal information within 45 days after a request is filed.

The publication of arrest records in Texas varies depending in which city or county the incident took place. Some cities publish mugshots only if the suspect is eventually convicted and some even require a written request to the sheriff’s office. Other cities publish booking photos and names for everyone to see online. As far as criminal records are concerned, they are accessible online for a small fee at the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Consequently, getting criminal information from official sources is not impossible but it takes a little bit of effort and time. But some private websites now take mugshots, names and other details from government pages and republish them for widespread viewing no matter if the individual in questions was ultimately convicted of a crime. Usually, if someone wants their information gone from the website they have to pay a fee.

Two of the most widely known mugshot websites are owned by Citizens Information Associates LLC and operated out of Austin, TX. Individuals from Ohio who claimed that it was illegal to post their information online and to demand a charge for the removal of the mugshots sued them. At the time, Citizens Information Associates LLC decided to cease the practice of charging a fee. What seemed like an act of good will at the time is now required by law.

Within 45 days of a request, any website must remove inaccurate criminal information from their database. Senate Bill No. 1289 only applies to expunged records or those under a nondisclosure agreement. Furthermore, websites are no longer allowed to charge a fee to erase or correct posted information. The websites must also prominently feature contact information where wronged individuals can reach them.

Of course, the operators of such websites claim they offer services for the public good by making information accessible to a large audience that is otherwise difficult to obtain. Critics of the practice invoke the right to privacy, a stance that Rep. Steve Stockman will most likely take himself in his own case of online mugshot posting. Unfortunately for him, the mugshot was taken in Michigan and does thus not fall under the new Texas law that would have given him the opportunity to request the removal of the compromising picture.