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Are mug shot websites a public service or an online shakedown?

A Florida lawsuit filed in in U.S. District Court is exposing the commercial side of the high traffic sites, which have affiliate online businesses that will expunge images for a price.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that plaintiff Shannon Bilotta’s mug shot, identity and arrest information turned up on and similar sites that automatically “scrape” data from sheriff’s office websites. Charges were dropped later against the Largo woman, but the websites often do not reflect that.

Bilotta’s attorneys are arguing that the websites violate Florida law banning a person’s image and information from being used for commercial purposes without permission. Arguing that the websites profit off a person's "humiliation," her attorneys are seeking to turn the case into a class action lawsuit in Florida.

Ironically, the Tampa Bay Times posts its own mug shot lineup as a “public service” on the Home page of its website.

Displayed more like a dating site, the mug shots can be filtered by age (including teens), gender, weight and even eye color. “Meet 272 people who were booked in the last 24 hours in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties” was the headline at the top of the "Mugshots" page on Monday morning.

The Times’ website does not tie the postings to any type of for-profit removal service, like the private, commercial sites do. But a quick look at the mug shots page shows a prominent banner advertisement for Derby Lanes’ “poker room.”

The Times notes in its article about the lawsuit that its "Mugshots" page operates differently. The page does not show up in targeted Google searches, and an individual's photo and arrest information are removed after two months. Well, that's a relief.

The easy-to-use page links readers to the full 60-day archive, where mugshots can be viewed by zip code, too.

In small type, a disclaimer reminds readers that people shown in the mug shots are “presumed innocent” and have not been convicted of any crime. But the website does not seem to contain information on convictions or updates as charges are dropped.

Poly sci prof turned candidate: A popular political science professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg is about to get some real-life lessons in retail politics.

Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan will challenge GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes in District 22, which covers portions of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The Tampa Bay Times is predicting a competitive race, as the area is considered a swing district that favored President Barack Obama.

Scourfield McLauchlan is a Fulbright Scholar, and married to the former chairman of the Pinellas Democratic Party.

At USF St. Pete, she teaches American Government and Public Law. She also has helped to organize Democratic political campaigns at the state level.

How to help typhoon victims: Massive relief efforts are under way after at least 10,000 people were killed when Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines.

The category 5 typhoon is one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, and there is an immediate need for sanitary drinking water, food, medical supplies and basic shelter.

Here’s a quick look at established relief agencies that make it easy to go online or text donations. These are agencies that immediately direct money and aid to the most in need:

World Food Programme: Text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10, or give online.

Salvation Army: Text the word TYPHOON to 80888 to give $10, or give online.

World Vision: Go online to a special web page set up for donations.

Shelter Box provides families with survival kits, including tents and other basic survival items.

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