South Carolina residents and those arrested in South Carolina, and their loved ones, may soon reap the benefits of new law aimed at putting an end to extortious mug shot websites that until now have operated on the fringes of the law to extort thousands of individuals arrested in South Carolina. 

Mug shot websites extract publicly available South Carolina booking photos and arrest records from local governments, and post the information on their websites. This act in and of itself is harmless and perfectly legal.  However, the mug shot sites then employ a cunning search engine optimization (“SEO”) strategy to make sure that a Google search of an arrestee’s name results in a mug shot image and record being placed among the first search results.  Significantly, Google images places high relevance on the mug shot websites images, which results in booking photos showing up nearly first in Google. (Google is allegedly changing their search algorithm to make mug shot websites less relevant).  Mug shot sites then charge anywhere from $99.00 – $399.000 to remove the booking photo and arrest data from their site, regardless of whether an arrest was unlawful, or the charge was dismissed and expunged.  With numerous mug shot websites operating at one time, and new sites coming to life regularly, an arrestee could potentially spend thousands trying to protect their image on the web.

Signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley and effective May 16, 2016, South Carolina, generally not known for being at the forefront of progressive, consumer protection legislation, published an amended Section 17, Criminal Procedure, making the lucrative practice of requiring a fee to remove booking photos and records from a website unlawful.  A link to the new law

Key Points of S.C. § 17-1-60:

1.   Jurisdiction.  The law includes “transacting business in South Carolina” language, which potentially extends the court’s jurisdiction such that the owners of offending mug shot sites may be forced to litigate in South Carolina.

2.   Unlawful.  The law makes it unlawful to obtain booking photos or records knowing:

a. they will be posted to a website or any other publication; and

b. removal or revision of the record requires payment of a fee or other consideration.

3.   Unlawful II.  A catchall subsection, § 17-1-60(C), makes it unlawful to require the payment of a fee or other consideration to remove, revise, or refrain from posting to a website or any other publication the arrest and booking records of a person arrested in South Carolina.

4.   Removal.  If an arrestee’s charge was discharged, dismissed, expunged, or the person was found not guilty, you may request that an offending website remove your booking photo and records if you comply with the formal requirements under the law.  The mug shot website must comply with the request within 30 days.  If they fail, and your request was proper, you may file suit, seek damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.

5.   Government Liability.  The law further makes it unlawful for an employee of a state or local government agency to provide booking records knowing:

a. it will be published on a nongovernmental website or any other publication; and

b. removal or revision of the arrest or booking records requires the payment of a fee.

Attorney Milt Stratos II has successfully defeated mug shot web sites with and without this new legislation, and forced the offending sites to delete a client’s image and booking records permanently.  If you or a family member is a target of mug shot websites, and your mug shot on the web represents a significant PR issue, please contact attorney Milt Stratos II, at Stratos Law, LLC to schedule a consultation. 

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