Mugged For Your Mugshot

David Segal recently reported (NYT) on sleazy mugshot websites:

The ostensible point of these sites is to give the public a quick way to glean the unsavory history of a neighbor, a potential date or anyone else. That sounds civic-minded, until you consider one way most of these sites make money: by charging a fee to remove the image. That fee can be anywhere from $30 to $400, or even higher. Pay up, in other words, and the picture is deleted, at least from the site that was paid.

Mark Kleiman wants more protections for those being blackmailed by such websites:

The Fifth Amendment forbids the deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That innocent people should sometimes be arrested is inevitable unless we can equip police with powers of omniscience. But the existence of an arrest record, even without a conviction, has many bad consequences. By maintaining arrest databases and making them available to others, the state in effect continues to punish someone for a crime of which that person was not convicted by due process of law. Why shouldn’t that be ruled unconstitutional?

Mike Riggs adds:

If the best argument for keeping mugshots in the “public information” category is that they’ve always been in that category, or that they help people instantaneously vet their dates and children’s baseball coaches, then open records advocates (of which I’m one 99 percent of the time) need to rethink this issue. Mugshots are a tool that allow police and crime victims to identify and track suspects through the criminal justice system. Making them publicly available turns an investigative tool into a lifelong punishment.

Google is already working to limit the harm these websites inflict:

Google has now found that these sites apparently do not comply with a certain guideline, and has taken action to demote them since Thursday, rolling out an amendment to its algorithms that has led to mugshots being pushed back and listed beyond the first page.

Credit card companies also took action:

“We looked at the activity and found it repugnant,” MasterCard General Counsel Noah Hanft told Times reporter David Segal of the websites offering to remove mug shots for fees. In the course of reporting the article, Segal brought the websites to the attention of MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and PayPal, all of which subsequently decided they would sever their relationships with the sites, effectively crippling their business model.