(CNN)Mugshots, dates of birth and other data from the arrests of nearly 67,000 people in a Pennsylvania county were available publicly online for two years. Even if their records had been expunged.
Jury says county violated a state's criminal records law. The total payout could be almost $67 million.
Now, after a class-action lawsuit objecting to the dissemination of the data, a federal jury on Tuesday found Bucks County had "willfully violated" a state law protecting individuals' criminal history data and awarded $1,000 to each member of the class action lawsuit.
The total payout could be almost $67 million.
"This is a landmark decision in the arena of the criminal stigma on the internet," Jonathan Shub, an attorney for the class-action members, told CNN, "because once your record is on the internet, you can't get it off."
The county, a Philadelphia suburb, posted confidential information dating back to 1938 on their inmate lookup tool between 2011 and 2013 but denies violating the criminal records law.
It said in a statement that the inmate lookup tool was launched for the purpose of "empowering crime victims by providing information to enable them to verify the whereabouts of those accused of crimes against them."
"Our confidence in the justice system is shaken after yesterday's verdict," the Bucks County commissioners said in a statement to CNN, "we intend to take all appropriate actions through the legal process to challenge the verdict in this case."
But Shub told CNN his clients are very happy with the verdict.
"They're elated that the jury sent a message to local counties and governments in general that privacy matters and that you cannot recklessly put out our data on the internet," Shub told CNN.
The case began in 2013 when Daryoush Taha filed suit against Bensalem Township after discovering his mugshot and criminal history were available online, according to court records.
Taha, who is from New Jersey, was arrested and charged in Bucks County in 1998. Despite maintaining his innocence, Taha accepted one year of rehabilitation in order to expunge his record, according to the criminal complaint.
In 2011, Taha discovered his criminal history record had been circulated to a company operating as "mugshots.com," which published individuals' criminal records, including their date of birth and physical description. Users were also able to comment on the photographs, according to the complaint.
Taha's record had been ordered to be expunged over 10 years previously, court records show.
The case expanded to a class action lawsuit in 2013, Shub told CNN. "If Bucks County willfully violated the law for one person, they violated it for everyone," he said.
A district court found that the inmate lookup tool violated protection under state law but the county appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a press release from Shub. The court affirmed the decision and accepted the premise of a class action suit.
Tuesday's decision found the county had "willfully violated" the privacy act which, according to Shub, means they showed reckless disregard.
The county meanwhile maintains that companies took advantage of the inmate lookup tool for commercial value.
"Those companies, such as mugshots.com, specifically targeted the County," the county commissioners said in a statement, "and us[ed] it for their own purposes to obtain money from those who had criminal records."
"We vigorously dispute that Taha or the class members he represents are entitled to any punitive damages at all," the county commissioners said.
Shub said it is not clear how many of the 66,799 people whose data was affected will receive the damages.
"We know there are certain people that are dead," he told CNN but estimated that between 45,000 and 50,000 people will be eligible to collect their money.