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Mug-Shot Industry Digs Up Your Past, Charges You To Bury It 245

An anonymous reader writes "Exploiting Florida's liberal public-records laws and Google's search algorithms, a handful of entrepreneurs are making real money by publicly shaming people who've run afoul of Florida law., the biggest player, now hosts more than 4 million mugs. On the other side of the equation are firms like RemoveSlander, and others that sometimes charge hundreds of dollars to get a mugshot removed. On the surface, the mug-shot sites and the reputation firms are mortal enemies. But behind the scenes, they have a symbiotic relationship that wrings cash out of the people exposed."
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Mug-Shot Industry Digs Up Your Past, Charges You To Bury It

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  • I don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @02:18AM (#36969020)
    Assuming that the mug-shot disappears from, does it disappear from the public records?
    If not, what stops another site to do the same?
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @02:30AM (#36969070) Journal
      The pictures are scraped from half a dozen sheriff websites from around the state. They will remain there, but.....

      The point is these guys do all the SEO optimization they can, so when you do a search for your name, it comes up. For example, if you do a Google search for phantomfive, this is what you find []. (ok, that's a joke).

      For some people, that website actually comes up. And they don't want their mugshot to be in the first 10 search results for their name. So they pay, in some cases, over $1000 to get it removed. Ouch.
      • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

        The point is these guys do all the SEO optimization they can, so when you do a search for your name, it comes up.

        Being a SEO optimisation just for the purpose of blackmailing, here's an idea []. I think it would be much cheaper for the blackmailed.

        • That's such a good idea, Google is now not responding to the search request in that other post. Yes, it appears that we've slashdotted Google. I think that says a lot about just how much the Slashdot crowd disagrees with this business model.

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @06:51AM (#36970214)

      If you are arrested but not convicted, why should that be a matter of public record at all? People get arrested and then released without charge all the time. Why should this continue to haunt them?

      Just because a police officer decided to arrest you that doesn't make you a criminal. Does it?


      • Yes it does, don't you know anything? Guilty until proven innocent, etc.
      • If you are arrested but not convicted, why should that be a matter of public record at all?

        If police are allowed to make arrests without generating public records, that creates a whole set of different, generally more serious problems for a society.

    • Assuming that the mug-shot disappears from, does it disappear from the public records? If not, what stops another site to do the same?

      For that matter, what's to stop from re-posting your mugshot? You were willing to pay the first time around. Why not the second?

      • by Psmylie ( 169236 ) *

        Depends on the wording of the agreement, I think... If they say that they'll get it off of those sites permanently, then you may be able to get them for breech of contract (I'm not a lawyer, obviously).

        Also, it makes financial sense to play it somewhat straight. If people's mugshots keep popping up, people will start to catch on that paying them does nothing but empty your bank account, and you'll STILL have that picture up there. That will get around, and they will lose "customers" (for lack of a better te

  • I'm surprised this isn't more common. Arrest records are public in many states, and it takes just one enterprising person to expose all that information for the masses, and/or charge to get your data out of the system. Florida must make it easier to get mugshots than other places, though - typically police here in California only release those when there's a public issue of some sort.

    For those interested, all sorts of information is public like this, but not always easy to get a hold of, depending on where you live. Such data includes mortgage records, liens, voter registration data, Social Security death records, civil and criminal case filings (and most other court-related information), some utility records, professional licenses, and other tidbits. It's good to know what's out there and who can easily access it - better than hiding and pretending it's not there, at least.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Simplest way to put activity like this is to choke the flow by charging for access to each individual record. Millions of records suddenly costs tens of millions of dollars, making this kind of activity economically unattractive.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @03:13AM (#36969286)

        Better still only show the mugshots of those who actually are convicted. Arrests are not convictions. Innocent until proven guilty.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)


          What of this?


          By the charges, I'd guess he broke a window and stole an xBox.

          Pretty harsh to have the lifetime scarlet letter in the name of community data rights.

          • The kid broke into a baseball field concession stand and stole a bunch of candy. [] Cops found a lot of candy and soda at their treehouse. Two other kids face felony charges for their role in stealing candy.

          • Isn't there some kind of law in Florida about releasing the arrest record of a minor? Or is it only the police that are bound by that (which they obviously did a TERRIBLE job of preventing).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        While at the same time stiffing investigative journalism forever. Perhaps not with mugshots, but it's a slippery slope to eliminating FOIA and the related state open records acts.

        • by SecurityTheatre ( 2427858 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @04:08AM (#36969524)

          Most scandinavian countries have strict rules about privacy of individuals, although criminal records are freely searchable by those with a need to know. Really any need to know is fine, but if it is determined later that you lied, you are in big trouble.

          Seems alright. "Applying for a job" is sufficient need to know. So is a press pass. You get access.

          "Scraping 10 million records" is not. You get a fine and are liable in civil court for breach of privacy.

          Seems very simple.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by bjourne ( 1034822 )
            You are not entirely correct about the details. Getting the information is not illegal, but publishing it is. You may not publish a database online containing personally identifiable information. The mugshot database in the article would definitely classify and would carry a hefty fine. Still, there are ways to get around the law, for example there are multiple sites around here that let people see how much their neighbours earn because tax records are public. I don't think that the law is the problem and i
        • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @04:09AM (#36969532)

          Privacy and freedom of information are two sides of the same coin. The idea is that the people need to be defended from oppressive states and that the people need to have power over oppressive states. State information should be freely available. People's information should only be available when it can be clearly proven that it is the states information.

          What is wrong here is that the data of innocent people should be theirs to control. The state and the sites republishing should be 100% liable for any even potential reputation damage of leaking the data of such people.

          The second thing which is wrong is the vindictiveness of US justice. There needs to be a clear period after which minor crimes are forgiven and there is no effective difference between that person and an innocent person. Unfortunately the US uses bad tools like plea bargains which mean it is impossible to differentiate the evil guilty who got away with a good deal from the people who thought they would be declared innocent and chose to fight.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Not really in this case, say five or ten dollars per complete record accessed with a token membership fee. Someone has to pay for the cost of keeping and distributing those records, why not make it those privacy invasive people who choose to download all of them.

        • While at the same time stiffing investigative journalism forever. Perhaps not with mugshots, but it's a slippery slope to eliminating FOIA and the related state open records acts.

          I think that's called the slippery slope fallacy.

          Preventing the immediate dissemination of arrest mugshots is not the first inevitable step towards 1984.

        • These are arrest records, the problem is that in the US a person's reputation is toast well before the trial begins. Good luck repairing your reputation if you're ever arrested for possession of child porn even if the evidence is complete bunk and you're acquitted you might never recover your good name as chances are the press will have spread it all over the country by the time the trial actually occurs.

          Sometimes there does need to be some restrictions on the press because the press isn't always capable of

    • Particularly since it is such an old idea. []

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @02:28AM (#36969060) Journal
    They'll either get sued out of existence, someone will discover that what they're doing is illegal (or will be made illegal) and they'll be shut down, or someone will find them and beat the living shit out of them and/or burn them to the ground. One way or another, don't think they'll be around long.
    • by jhoegl ( 638955 )
      I vote law suits, as their method is double punishment.
  • my favourite part is how they are intentionally trying to piss-off/harass criminals. sure not all of them will be for serious crimes and i assume just because you had a mug shot taken doesn't necessarily mean you were convicted... but still, there's gotta be some nut-jobs in that mix and i'm sure some of them know how to either:

    1) hack stuff or
    2) make bombs

    wait is that a bomb joke? can i be arrested for saying that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Seriously, my charges were dropped but they're still on this page..

    • Re:interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Zumbs ( 1241138 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @05:53AM (#36969984) Homepage

      my favourite part is how they are intentionally trying to piss-off/harass criminals

      Not really: Hardened criminals are unlikely to care if there is a mug shot of them on some site. The people that are going to suffer for this are the people who:

      • 1) Were not convicted of anything
      • 2) Got on with their lives
      • 3) Are trying to get on with their lives
  • Extortion as a business model. Go directly to jail do not pass go.

    And yes boys and girls this is extortion and it is illegal.

    • They're just doing what the patent trolls do, and nobody has seen fit to put those vile bastards out of busines...

      Hmmm... maybe that's the solution. Patent creating a database of images of convicted criminals and demanding cash to take the pictures off.

  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @03:06AM (#36969260)
    These images may be a matter of public record, but isn't the tosser in breach of copyright by scraping them and putting them up on his website along with the other details? Is he just hotlinking? Who actually holds the copyright on those mugshots? Does he actually get them removed from the original Sheriff's website or does he just flag it in his database to not push it in google? So many questions not answered in the original article...
    • Typically "copyright" is non-government. Public records are public, and we have a right to see them because technically they belong to the people.

  • Anything goes for profit.
  • Blackmail? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fadir ( 522518 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @03:15AM (#36969302)

    Is it just me or does that sound like classic blackmail? How can stuff like this be legal?

  • by flimflammer ( 956759 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @03:20AM (#36969328)

    Hilarious. That site is dedicated solely to removing your mugshot from and the google search index, and all RemoveSlander does is pay the site $28 to remove both through an automated link. So the slander site brings in like $678 just to click a button. That's pretty good.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @04:22AM (#36969594) Journal
    I'm not going to rely on these sites for a background check. If someone's not on there it doesn't mean they didn't do anything. It just means they paid to have them removed.

    So why pay to remove myself?
    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      So why pay to remove myself?

      Because people are stupid beyond belief. If they weren't this whole scam would be a non-starter. Anyone capable of thinking their way out of a paper bag knows that a mug shot on a site like this is completely meaningless, so only idiots are going to pay any attention to them. Someone that stupid will ALSO believe that the lack of a mug shot on a site like this means something, although I'm not sure what: it's really really hard to think like a stupid person.

      On the good side, any employer who turns you d

  • If we care enough about this, we should all follow the example of the Freedom March... everyone should join, and supply "I am Sparticus" mugshots. Providing false data creates inflation in the data security industry. You can do more damage to an economy with counterfeiting than you can by burning currency. My problem is, why do I care? If I accept that the people getting mugshots are drunk drivers etc., I am not motivated to "march" for them.
  • Pissing off a bunch of criminals probably isn't a good idea in the long run.

  • Check this out:

    His year-old business has earned him enemies. Wiggen said he receives about 100 angry e-mails, and a few snail-mail letters, every day from people whose booking photos are displayed on his site. “Obviously, they’re really nasty,” he said of the messages. “I never thought I’d get this backlash from individuals. I just never imagined it.”

    He's not an evil bastard, he has a mental disorder. Every time this guy's brain boots up, it throws "module empathy not found."

    When a mentally ill person stabs a traffic cop because they thought he was the devil we put them in an institution, but when they think people have no feelings and use them as cattle or disposable cogs we can't give them our money fast enough.

  • The police sites that these mugshots come from should require a CAPTCHA when browsing begins and before accessing any individual record. Ideally, names on the list should be translated to images, not CAPTCHA-style, but the cost of OCR'ing the page will be high. Allow a search so that people can still find records easily - but require a CAPTCHA for that as well. Unless the CAPTCHA it's cracked, it will shut down these mugshot sites overnight. They could try implementing this interface only when a crawler is

  • is that Rob Wiggen continue this service for a very short while.
    once you've destroyed someones relationship, their job, and their social life
    by flagrantly parading their past transgressions, some very painful,
    You have created someone who is determined with nothing more to lose.

    you;ve also created someone who values your fingers toes and teeth far less than you.
  • by Dainsanefh ( 2009638 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @12:19PM (#36973928) Homepage

    You voters ask for FOIA laws. This is what you get.

    A government that works under secrecy is usually for the best of the people.

    An utopia is necessarily totalitarian.

    America becomes a land of taking advantage of the poor and unlucky.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.