NNSquad - Network Neutrality Squad

NNSquad Home Page

NNSquad Mailing List Information


[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ NNSquad ] Blame Police for Mugshot Extortion, Not Google

             Blame Police for Mugshot Extortion, Not Google


In an impassioned opinion posting today, Jonathan Hochman argues that
Google should take actions to effectively ostracize and censor the
abominable "mugshot extortion" sites that have been popping up around
the Web, who demand sometimes large fees to "remove" arrested persons'
copied mugshot photos -- even for persons never charged or found
guilty of any crimes ( http://j.mp/YaYA1B [Search Engine Land] ).

His argument that these photos showing up in search results unfairly
damage the reputations of many innocent individuals is valid.

However, his suggested agents for action -- search engines such as
Google -- are not the appropriate focus in this very unfortunate

We see again and again how tempting it is to try "blame the messenger"
such as search results when indexed websites behave badly.  But the
reality is clear -- even if such search results are removed -- and the
related slippery slope censorship problem can be enormous -- the
actual sites in question still exist and their materials will find
other ways to propagate around the Web.

The detailed calculus involved is not necessarily identical in the
case of ad policy standards as compared with organic search results
themselves, but the foundational issues are much the same -- and it's
clear who should be held responsible, and that's not Google.

In fact, the real culprits are of course those mugshot sites
themselves, in league with their enabling partners in these extortive
activities -- law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

And make no mistake about it -- law enforcement could stop most of
this mess in a heartbeat if they really wanted to.

The underlying problem is the now common police practice of 
publishing -- and in most cases now that means placing online for easy 
archival and copying -- the mugshots and identifying data for persons merely
arrested even for the most minor of offenses -- and often including
people for whom charges are quickly dropped (and the persons
released), or later found innocent as well.

In the past, when common practice was only to release such photos in
cases of serious crimes, and when these images might only appear in a
printed newspaper for a day or two, the situation was much less ripe
for abuse.

But since going online, police departments are increasingly just
dumping all manner of arrest photos and data onto the Net, with no
regard for the potentially devastating impact on innocent persons'
lives going forward.

We really should not be surprised by this turn of events.  In many
ways it's an outgrowth of another atrocious and unfair (and very
common) police practice, the parading ("perp walk") of humiliated,
shackled prisoners -- often not yet even tried for any crime much less
found guilty -- in front of the media, both to try promote
departmental efficiency and to poison any upcoming jury pools to be
predisposed against the defendants.

The practice of mass dumping of mugshots and associated data onto the
Internet is from the same mindset.  "Look how many people we arrested
last night!  Look at these bad people we took off the streets!  Gawd,
we're great!"

Both of these abusive police practices are explicitly illegal in many

As for the innocents in those mugshots -- the cops' actions show that
they essentially could not care less.

There are a couple of ways to usefully attack this problem.  To the
extent that the mugshot extortion racket is technically legal, laws to
change this state of affairs should be considered as soon as possible.
But this could be tricky from a first amendment standpoint if law
enforcement keeps throwing the images and data online publicly.

This suggests another approach.  

Law enforcement's rapid release of arrest photos and associated data
should be halted for all but the most serious of crimes at least.
Such images and data related to accusations of minor crimes should not
be released at all, or at a minimum after sufficient time has elapsed
that only those arrests for which charges have actually been filed and
not rapidly dropped are made available.

If you're arrested and you're released after charges are relatively
quickly dropped or no formal charges are made, there's no valid reason
for your arrest photo and data to be placed online to be abused in the
first place.

But even if law enforcement later removed innocent parties' photos and
data, what of the private mugshot extortion sites that mirror them?

While I am unenthusiastic in general about using copyright law for
Internet takedowns, this may be a case where it can be of some actual
help.  If these innocent parties' arrest images and data were
copyrighted by law enforcement, and law enforcement were willing to
take actions against the private mugshot sites, this could provide a
legal basis not only to try force removal of individual photos from
those sites, but to undermine their evil business models entirely.

If law enforcement is unwilling to take such actions directly, they
should be forced to assign the photo/data copyrights to the individual
innocent persons arrested, so that these persons could then have some
leverage for taking legal steps against these mugshot firms directly,
perhaps on a class action basis.

Ultimately, this whole nightmare lands squarely at the feet of law
enforcement, which leverages arrest photos of innocent people into
political points, no matter who gets hurt in the process.  If those
photos and associated data were properly limited by the police and
other officials in the first place, this entire mess would likely not
exist at all.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org/pfir-info
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com/privacy-info
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com

nnsquad mailing list