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Money For Your Mugshot: The Imprint of the Internet

The proliferation of the Internet markedly changed and continues to influence how our society uses and consumes information. As with most seminal shifts, there are pros and cons. As a populist tool Internet allows for a completely free and if desired, anonymous exchange of ideas as well as pornography, smut, and piracy. Social media allows people to create relationships and easily share information with people all over the globe at the sacrifice of certain aspects of privacy. Since information can be so easily collated, as Annemarie Bridy, an Idaho College of Law professor, notes on abajournal.com, “what’s public record is now not only public, it’s going to be publicized.”

Bridy is referring to a new niche of websites focused on pooling mugshots and arrest records and forcing people to pay a fee to get them removed. Where once employers, insurance companies, and credit firms scoured Facebook and checked references to help judge applicants’ reputations, these new sites provide a vast, uncoordinated body of mugshots and arrest records that are just a click away. Some sites are charging a 99 dollar fee to take down a mugshot and record, which, with the proliferation of such sites, a complete erasure could cost thousands. While requiring a fee to remove a mugshot may constitute extortion, the information posted is not specifically being made public, only publicized, which complicates the claim of extortion. While there is cause for worry, writer Eric Goldman of Technology and Marketing Law Blog acknowledges that “lawmakers would rethink how public records are used,” but that “the true solution is that we […] will have to get better at evaluating the information presented to us” especially since it is becoming cheap and easy to obtain or fabricate. And there is hope. Two cases were filed in 2010, Robins v. Spoke Inc., which is on appeal in a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Purcell v. Spokeo, which was stayed pending appeal, contest sites that contain inaccurate information aimed at background checking organizations. Hopefully, these cases will curb the effect of false imprints on the Internet.

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