Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Help needed to control predatory websites that unpublish mug shots

We tend to have little sympathy for people who find themselves pictured in jail mug shots.

For the record, though, there is a chance the charges that led to that almost always unflattering portrait will get reduced or dropped.

Or that the person frozen on camera at that low moment will be acquitted.

Or even that part about letting people have a shot at a normal life once they've paid their debt.

But where there's smoke, right?

Those who end up pictured in perpetuity on those popular mug shot websites are a by-product of the cyber-frenzied world that brought us Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everything all the time everywhere, courtesy of the Web.

Mix some creative capitalism from those who thought to cull mug shots from public records with our apparent fascination with them, and there's your business model.

Except sometimes it takes the rules a while to catch up with the technology. And there comes a point where modern-world business savvy starts to look like cybershakedown.

The Times' Laura C. Morel recently reported on a woman whose domestic battery charge in Largo was dropped and who is now suing mug shot sites that featured her photo and details of her arrest. Her attorney hopes it becomes a class action.

For the record, there are sites that offer to get rid of mug shots free for people who prove that their charges went away.

Though shouldn't that be the rule for all of them?

It should go without saying that there is an all-too-obvious and important public purpose in making sure arrest records — and yes, the identifying photographs that accompany them — are public record and there for you to see.

Is that job applicant a good prospect?

Has your babysitter been charged with something scary?

But then there are sites that seem to step over a line — offering "unpublishing" services for $100 or much, much more to arrestees who know a photo floating out there could haunt job and personal prospects pretty much forever.

Sound like a cybersqueeze to you?

(Full disclosure: The Times has a mug shot website, but unlike others, the photos there are purged after 60 days and in Google searches, the Web pages don't come up.)

The world moves so fast these days, technology sometimes seems to just gallop off into the distance. We had to figure out cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Florida recently made it illegal to release pictures or videos depicting a murder in a court case — a law specifically aimed at keeping sensitive material from being exploited forever on the anonymity of the Web.

So when it comes to the potential for a mug shot cybershakedown, it might be nice to get the attention of legislators or even the state attorney general to consider what sure seems a predatory practice.

This would mean getting them past worrying it might look like they're coddling criminals or — that phrase that surely gives some of them the night sweats — soft on crime.

But it would be the right thing to do — even if the "victim" in all this happens to be someone in a mug shot.

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