A closer look at mug shot websites
– July 28, 2014 –
From March 2011 to March 2013 it was reported that more than 60 new mug shot websites were created (ABC News), posting hundreds of individuals’ photos. These sites, due to open record laws, post pictures of people that have been arrested, obtained from various law enforcement resources.
Law enforcement sites can be reliable sources of information; however, the issue lies in the way that the mug shot websites repost the material. Some of the people whose mug shots appear are later found innocent, and the charges are dropped. However, these sites do not have a system to vet out these innocent individuals.
For some victims, these sites have had detrimental effects. Many companies Google search potential employees, and if their mug shot is hosted on one of these sites (guilty or innocent), they may see a potential job offer terminated. “Once something gets on the Internet, that booking photo, that mug shot photo, is going to haunt you for the rest of your life,’ said Peter Aiken, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Myers, Fla.” (ABC News)
To make the situation worse, when the victims call to ask for their pictures to be taken down, they are blackmailed to have the image removed, and are threatened by the release of even more false information. Not only are the victims being extorted, but also this practice raises questions around “innocent until proven guilty” standards.
What’s being done?
In the U.S., seven states (Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming) have passed legislation prohibiting merchants from requesting a fee for mug shots to be removed from sites. Legislators claim it is unjust for these sites to only remove pictures of guilty or innocent people if the victim is willing to pay a substantial fee.
The credit card networks are also beginning to keep a closer eye on these sites to make sure they are complying with this new legislation. According to CNN.com “Following a New York Times exposé…MasterCard, Visa, and Discover promised to cut ties with such sites as Mugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com and JustMugshots.com.”
To be compliant with card network regulations, transactions must be legal in both the merchant’s and the cardholder’s jurisdictions, so legislation affects more than just the merchants that operate in those seven states.
With the continued growth of mug shot websites, it is good that card networks and legislation are on the same side, fighting for personal privacy. Hopefully soon, innocent people will no longer be unjustly haunted by dropped charges.