Thursday night, ABC Nightline reported about problems consumers encountered with the mugshot industry -- websites that publish online photos of citizens arrested by law enforcement. While there have been very public, high-profile cases of celebrities' mugshots, the reality is that many consumers have been affected.
You've never heard of the mugshot industry? Neither had I until this Nightline report:
"Here's how it works, the sites legally download the latest mug shots from police web sites [that] published the faces of alleged lawbreakers on the Internet. And then often charge the accused of -- sometimes hundreds of dollars to pull all the photos..."
That's right. The sites charge consumers a fee, sometimes called a "take-down fee," to remove their mugshot photos. There are several problems with this. First, after paying one website to remove their mugshot photo, many consumers find that their mugshot photos re-appear on another website. Second, many sites don't consistently remove mugshot photos of consumers wrongfully arrested or found innocent by a court:
"... Sofia on Roddy says that was not her experience dealing with other companies she says she explained over and over again how she was the victim. And how the photos were preventing her from obtaining employment. And she provided these court document showing that prosecutors cleared her case. This was a wrongful arrests. And the case was dismissed by the state attorney's office. But her picture remains published..."
That does not sound good at all. According to ABC Nightline, there are 60 such mugshot websites. I searched online and easily found several within five minutes:
- Tampa Bay Mugshots (Florida)
- Busted! Mugshots
- Sarasota Mugshots (Florida)
- Springfield Mugshots (Missouri)
- Just Mugshots
- Shasta Mugshots (California)
- Gwinnett County Mugshots (Georgia)
- Mugshots Ocala (Florida)
- Mugshots Atlanta (Georgia)
- Go Upstate Mugshots (South Carolina)
- Cincy Mugshots (Ohio)
- Mugshots Gainsville (Florida)
- Who's Arrested
Some sites focus on a specific city or country, while others include several states and/or geographic areas. I am sure that some sites operate responsibly. Some are operated by newspapers. Why is this industry growing quickly? The ABC Nightline report interviewed one mugshot website operator, who admitted:
"Think of how many people have been arrested. Now put a small service fee on data -- of people and you can see why the industry is sort of taken off..."
Some consumers are fighting back. First, there is at least one blog about the mugshot industry. Increasing awareness among consumers is always good.
Second, in Florida legislators introduced a new bill (HB 677) to require mugshot website operators to automatically take down photos when consumers are found not guilty, or the charges were later dropped. That seems to be a very appropriate common-sense law.
Third, there is a class-action lawsuit in Ohio against several mugshot websites. According to Findlaw, the lawsuit claims:
"... these mugshot websites violate a person's right to publicity... to control how their own names and likenesses are used in the public domain, similar to how someone would own a copyright or patent... these mugshot websites may not publish such photos for the sole purpose of profiting off them, the lawsuit claims. The suit asserts that the websites' primary purpose for publishing these mugshot photos is so that those charged with a crime will pay money to remove their pictures."
The credit reporting industry is catching some most-deserved criticism about high error rates in credit reports. Plus, a couple federal laws govern and dictate a consistent process for consumers to report and challenge errors in credit reports. Accuracy seems important for the mugshot industry. HB 677 is a good start, but that is only one state. Issues with the mugshot industry are likely to continue until consumers pressure their elected officials for improved laws that better balance the privacy rights of consumers with the publishing rights of mugshot websites.
What do you think of the mugshot industry? If you have been affected by, or paid a take-down fee to a mugshot website, what was your experience?