SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee Thursday unanimously supported a bill designed to curb the practice of scam artists publishing jail mug shots online and charging fees to remove them.
"I can't emphasize the volume we have seen and the tragedy of this," Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder told House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, testifying in favor of HB408. "We estimate that the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office has lost 300,000 to 500,000 photographs."
Winder said his office became aware of the scam when people came in "extremely upset," complaining that their mug shot had popped up online with a message requesting $500 or more to remove it.
After they paid the fee, the photo was never removed.
Currently, the practice is legal. By requiring a signed statement that the photo will not be used in a printed or online publication that requires payment for removal, the bill allows law enforcement to prosecute perpetrators.
The sheriff's office has taken Salt Lake County Jail photos offline to make them more difficult to access, but because they are public record, they are subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act.
Winder said people have been requesting hundreds of photos at a time.
Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said the proposed legislation is designed to target such batch requests that are "clearly evidence of inappropriate purpose."
"We're not going to stop it," Winder said of the practice. "What we can do is slow it and begin to mitigate it."