Mugshot Websites Make the Past Eternally Present

More than 60 mugshot websites are up and running, according to ABC News, and each site pulls together collections of arrest photographs published above the real names and arrest information of those photographed. The coding is crude and the sites are easy to navigate, meaning that search engines can quickly scour the sites and create sophisticated maps of the information on each and every page. With just a quick Google search, someone looking for a mugshot of a specific person can hit pay dirt, and with that photo in hand, it’s easy to cause mischief.

the past

That’s just what happened in Colorado, according to news reports, as opponents of a gun measure found mugshot photos taken in 1991 of a prominent legislator who is working to ban ammunition magazines containing more than 15 rounds. The photo was repurposed with the caption, “Criminals will obey the laws I introduce into Colorado,” and was shared on various social media outlets, according to the Denver Post. This representative had shared her arrest history in the past, but she was likely dismayed to see that her mugshot could appear over and over again, making that very old arrest seem as though it had just happened mere moments ago.

Mugshot websites often claim that the work they do helps communities to stay safe, but there’s no evidence that photographs help keep dangerous people behind bars. A recent case in Florida makes this all too clear. Here, a man was arrested on charges stemming from an assault of two women, based on their recognition of him in mugshot photographs. The man wasn’t guilty of this terrible crime, however, and DNA evidence exonerated him after he’d spent 24 years in prison. Cases like this make it clear that mugshots can harm reputations and make people seem guilty, even when they’re not guilty of any crime at all.

Mugshot websites are largely automated and they don’t contain expiration dates. No one is looking through criminal case records and removing photographs if people are later exonerated of the charges that were levied against them during the arrest. No one is deleting photographs after a specific period of time has passed. No one is removing images that are just too damaging to deal with. The photos just stay, waiting for someone to take an interest. Years later, when the people photographed want to get a job, find a romantic partner or pass important legislation, those hidden time bombs could start ticking, just waiting to explode.

That’s why we encourage people to take action as soon as they find out their faces are online. We can delete photos fast, and we can keep running checks and deleting any copies of photos that appear months down the line. It’s a sophisticated attack, and it’s the best way to fight back. Contact us to find out more.