Kravets explains that reputation companies, like RemoveSlander.com, are players in an emerging “mugshot racket” that feature websites with millions of photos and a convenient way to remove them: money. For $399, RemoveSlander will remove a mugshot featured on the popular — but apparently unaffiliated — site, Florida Mugshots, for example. According to the article, the company does this by paying part of that fee to the mugshot site’s owner. “On the surface, the mug-shot sites and the reputation firms are mortal enemies,” Kravets wrote. “But behind the scenes, they have a symbiotic relationship that wrings cash out of the people exposed.”
These companies are now emerging in Florida due to the state’s broad public record laws that allow individual mugshots to be easily obtained. When it comes to these photos, most states consider your face — be it beat-up, distraught, or half-shaven — to be a public record. (Click here to run a 50-state comparison.)
All this openness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I could quote Justice Brandeis about how well sunlight disinfects, but ultimately it’s a matter of providing information to the public about police activity and those who are arrested for crimes. The lack of privacy is a worthwhile price to be paid for such accountability. But what about the price to be paid for keeping public records, well, less public?
According to Wired, Rob Wiggen, who runs the Florida Mugshots site, is an ex-con now making money legitimately via mugshot-takedown fees. Power to him. But as Wiggen readily admits, his own mugshot will not be found on his site — and neither will those of others who pay up. What bothers me about this isn’t so much the exploiting of state public record laws, but the lack of a central repository for public records that allows such exploitation to occur. Wiggen uses scraping software to collect the mugshots from about 60 different searchable websites run by local law enforcement. When aggregated, those photos can become a valuable database.