Cartoon of prison photographers from the Illustrated London News, 1873 in The Mechanical Eye in Australia (OUP, Davies & Stanbury, 1985). Via (Source)

Cartoon of prison photographers from the Illustrated London News, 1873 in The Mechanical Eye in Australia (OUP, Davies & Stanbury, 1985).

Over on the high-class Threat Level blog, David Kravets has penned Mug-Shot Industry Will Dig Up Your Past, Charge You to Bury It Again a scary piece about America’s “mug shot industry racket”:

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.

Florida.arrests.org, the biggest player, now hosts more than 4 million mugs. On the other side of the equation are firms like RemoveSlander.com, RemoveArrest.com 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.

I’ve written before about rolling galleries of the recently arrested in place of stories on online “news” sites. It is a practice particularly prevalent across southern states. These galleries are the digital version of mugshot papers like Just Busted.

Unlike these galleries that feature the latest bookings, FloridaArrests has raked the archives. But I would still criticise both for an amount of coercion; they induct, at some level, users into the visual language of law enforcement. By the act of looking we are perversely interacting with portraits threaded with menace; they are, after all, the outcome of some type of confrontation. But the visibility of these images (and thus confrontations) far outweighs the impact these contained confrontations have on the everyday life of the majority.

Kravets’ article demonstrates that beyond the dubious exchange of digital imagery for news informational purposes fear, a business model has been found to monetise the shame that goes along with being booked and photoed.

“The business model seems to be to generate embarrassment and then remove the source of the embarrassment for a fee,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, and one of the nation’s leading open-records advocates.

Now you are manipulated as much as prey of the mugshot industry as much as you were as a consumer!

Have you made one mistake in the Sunshine State? If so, you’re probably up there among the other 4 million mugshots. That is until you fork out $400 to a specialist firm to process a $20 take-down request. The take-down is a “URL for an automated takedown script on [a] site” that is activated by PayPal payment. FloridaArrests.org have provided the URL in advance for multiple companies.

Reads like a racket.

UPDATE

I rewrote the original title. It was Mug Shot Racket Industry: Exposing Your Shame and Charging You to Purge it from Google!

I removed the exclamation mark. My mood changed. I removed the words ‘Racket’, ‘Your’ and ‘You’. Even though the definition of racket is “a dishonest business or practice,” which this sounds like, FloridaArrests actions and the actions of mugshot removal providers are legal. They’re just cynical. And obviously not everyone has been arrested by Florida’s law enforcement, so ‘your’ and ‘you’ was hyperbole. I also changed the photo and went all 19th century.

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