Mugshots and Privacy: Should You Be Concerned?

As the country continues to learn more about what the NSA Surveillance Program did and did not monitor during recent years, and President Obama continues to face tough questions from the press and the public, some people are beginning to question their online activities and their privacy. Are they really safe while surfing, and how much of their private information can they protect while they’re online? Should they even expect privacy at all?

These are questions with no easy answers. For example, according to an overview article produced by NPR, some studies have found that more than half of Americans don’t approve of this kind of monitoring, and yet, a large number of people are comfortable with monitoring that might keep them safe from terrorists.

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But what if you’re arrested?

Many of these concerns about privacy seem to fly right out the window as soon as the mugshot is taken. Immediately, you might be branded a criminal, and all of the details of your supposed crime might be on display for everyone to see. Some sites even publish your birthday, your weight and your address. Some sites even provide a handy map, so people can find you.

At the moment, this all seems to be legal, and there’s no movement afoot to ban this activity. But it’s worthy of discussion. In this country, people should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and privacy rules should apply to everyone, not just people who have perfect histories and good lawyers. That’s why we’ve fought so hard to develop sophisticated tools that can remove mugshots in mere minutes from almost any site on the web. We think privacy is worth fighting for. Find out more at www.mugshotremovalcompany.com.

A Snapshot of Reputation Damage: Mugshots and False Arrests

Two people who are standing in the same spot, witnessing the same event, might come away with two very different stories about what really happened and who is to blame. This sort of discrepancy drives law enforcement officials and reporters absolutely crazy, as it becomes difficult to find the truth when memories are so very faulty. Photographs, including mugshots, might seem like a perfect solution, as these images are clear-cut and hard to explain away. Unfortunately, even photos may not tell the whole story of a crime, and if they are released, the reputation damage they can cause could be immense.

The Boston marathon bombing case made the dangers of crime scene photographs all too clear to Americans. After all, in the hours that followed the attack, at-home sleuths poured over photographs, looking for the faces of people who might attack their fellow citizens. Reddit users found a similarity between two photographs: one at the crime scene and one from the web. They came to the unfortunate conclusion that the two photographs matched, and they released the name of the person they thought had committed the crime. The man they had named had nothing to do with the crime, however, and the young man was found dead just a few days later. It's hard to know exactly what happened in the last few days of the man's life, but it is known that he was mentally ill and that the accusations were widespread and hard to ignore. Perhaps this was the trigger that caused the man to take his own life.

A similar case took place in England, when a man reportedly helped victims of a riot in August of 2011. Blurry photographs of the crime scene didn't seem to show the man helping, however, and the police released still photographs with the man's face, suggesting that he was wanted for questioning in the case. The man was so hurt and damaged by the suggestion that he had caused his community harm that he successfully sued the police for libel. These sorts of cases are rarely successful in the United States, but in England, the man won his case.

Even mugshots can be used to ruin a person's reputation. In 2008, for example, Philadelphia police officers reportedly released the wrong mugshot of a man wanted for a sexual crime, and when the man went to the police station to clear up the discrepancy, he was sent to jail for several days. In the interim, the man's neighbors likely assumed that they were living next to a dangerous criminal, and it took the man 3 years to clean up his reputation and receive monetary compensation for the damage he endured.

As these three examples make clear, a picture doesn't always tell the true story of a crime. In fact, a picture can be completely misleading when it comes to the acts committed and the people involved. Some photographs are so wrong, in fact, that the people pictured suffer intense damage as a result. People who are arrested and who appear on mugshot websites may have first-hand experience with this phenomenon. They may have been arrested for crimes they didn't commit. They may have been falsely accused. They may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet, their photos appear online and make it seem as though they're guilty, and the viewers of those photos may be quick to believe that the crime really happened. If this has happened to you, we can help you to fight back.

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Mugshots and Police Monitoring: Don't Be Fooled by the Rhetoric

In the era of Don Draper, advertising was considered a desperate move undertaken by companies with a product to sell and something to hide. Modern companies, on the other hand, would never consider operating without a comprehensive marketing campaign. This is especially true of companies that work in unsavory sectors of the economy. For these companies, a comprehensive marketing campaign can allow them to explain their business model, and perhaps the work could keep protestors away from their front doors.

Mugshot companies understand this concept quite well, and many of the public websites that collect these images also produce comprehensive blogs that explain, and defend, their work. One such company, Mugshots.com, often claims that mugshot collections allow regular citizens to monitor the work of police agencies, and perhaps even uncover corruption. (See example entries with that argument here and here and here.) On the surface, this is an argument that makes sense. Seeing mugshots could allow people to spot nefarious acts committed by police agents. But when we dig a little deeper, the premise seems to fall apart.

Mugshots are designed to provide evidence of a person's arrest. In theory, if someone is beat up or abused, and that is recorded in the police record, a cleaned-up photograph could indicate police tampering. A teen's mugshot from February in Greece contains this kind of alleged tampering, and the image prompted an investigation. However, this kind of problem seems relatively rare. After all, many mugshots contain specific tags that read “beat up,” and it's difficult to find news coverage of any mugshots that prompted an investigation in this country due to a cover up. It just doesn't seem to be something that happens very often.

As to the idea that mugshots can provide the public with information about how the police force works and who is arrested, that also seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. After all, when researchers want to look for information about arrests in this country, they have plenty of vetted sources to explore. Researchers writing in the journal Social Forces used the National Incident-Based Reporting System, for example, while writers for The Bay Citizen used California Department of Justice crime statistics. In both instances, the reports contained information about police work, suggesting that policies weren't protecting the public as they should. But in both cases, no mugshot databases were used. Suggesting that mugshots provide the only avenue to police monitoring is a little bit false, in our opinion, given this kind of data.

Marketing is important, and it can help a company to clean up its image and express its mission statement in clear and present terms. But marketing should also be honest, and the argument that mugshots help to monitor the police seems to fall a little short of that mark.

If you appear on a public mugshot website like Mugshots.com, please visit us. We have a comprehensive set of tools that can remove mugshots from all major publishers, and we can sometimes remove images within 24 hours.

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