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New Illinois Law Says No More Mugshots of Low Level Offenders

Illinois’ law on companies making money off people by using their arrest mugshots online has been given a few more teeth.

Under the guise of public background checks, some for-profit websites will collect local mugshots and post them with information about the accompanying address.

Starting in 2019, the publishers of the mugshots face a $100 per day fine as well as liability for the plaintiff’s legal costs if they don’t update information on the sites when told to.

State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, said his legislation provides a process for those pictured to demand updated information, such as an expungement or acquittal, for instance.

“Privately owned websites have charged a fee that has been as high as $1,000 to remove those mugshots and that outdated criminal information,” he said. “This bill would ban that and add some additional teeth to help people make sure that what is outdated or even wrong in many cases is removed.”

Publishing a mugshot and charging for removal has been illegal since 2014.

The bill would also ban local police departments from posting mugshots of low-level offenders on their websites or social media pages. However, there’s an exception for active investigations where publishing a photo would help police. The Illinois State Police is exempt from this, as are news media outlets.

“There’s a lot that the statute doesn’t cover,” said Sami Azhari, a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago. “In terms of stopping these websites from posting a person’s mugshot, it doesn’t do anything to fight it that wasn’t covered in the previous statute.”

Azhari agreed with Stadelman that a person’s mugshot in the public domain can become a serious obstacle when applying for a job.

“It can cause a lot of problems,” he said. “The minute you do a Google search and see that person’s mugshot it may change your opinion of the candidate.”

Azhari said that prohibiting police departments from publishing these photos is a step in the right direction. However, he said there are too many exceptions to keep the photos from becoming public.

Media outlets have long fought to make these pictures available as a matter of public transparency, but it’s been more of an issue at the federal level.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law this month as one of hundreds that were sent to him in June.