Christopher Jones thought his arrest was behind him. After all, it was 7 years ago and the case was dropped by the prosecution. However, Chris was in for a rude awakening after he visited mugshots.com. Chris found himself face-to-face with his 2006 mug-shot and a host of information available for anyone with an Internet connection to search.
The information that the website provided portrayed Mr. Jones in quite a negative light and did not reveal the whole story. For example, the website did not say that the apartment Jones was arrested for burglarizing was the very apartment he had recently moved out of or that the case was summarily dismissed by the prosecution.
Chris contacted the website and told them that he wanted his picture and information taken down and removed. However, the website administrators said he would have to pay them $399 for them to do so. He was understandably perturbed by the terms of this offer.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jones is just one of thousands being cornered into paying outrageous sums of money to private websites that cobble together public record data and subsequently post it online.
Moreover, scores of websites have cropped up doing the same thing. Public data is now even more available than it has ever been and websites are using it to their advantage.
While some assert that they are simply allowing parents to discover whether their child’s sports coach or teacher have been charged with a crime, critics are claiming that requiring a person to pay money for their entry to be removed borders on extortion.
The most troubling thing about these websites is that records that have been expunged sometimes appear on them. The website tracks down the data, posts it, and then later on down the line the person’s record gets expunged. However, the information that the website obtained is still out there for anyone from New York to New Zealand to peruse.
Such practices have prompted lawsuits in Ohio and Pennsylvania and sparked efforts by legislators in Georgia and Utah to pass laws making it easier to remove arrest photos from the sites without charge. The attorney for mugshots.com revealed, “The First Amendment gives people the right to do this.” Nevertheless, a state representative from Atlanta commented, “I can’t find any public interest that’s served if you are willing to take it [a mug shot] down if I give you $500. Then what public interest are you serving?”
Similarly, Scott Ciolek, a Toledo lawyer who sued four of these sites on behalf of two Ohioans who found their arrest photos online, noted that the mug shot publishers are simply taking advantage of people’s embarrassment in order to unfairly squeeze them for profit.