Mugshot Websites: Modernizing Extortion for the Information Age?

As lawmakers across the U.S.A. look for the solution that will put an end to the online mugshot extortion racket, many proposals are being blocked by journalists as a first amendment impasse. A recently postponed bill in Virginia that proposes to update the state’s extortion statute seems like a viable way to avoid this conundrum:

“places, publishes, or otherwise disseminates on the Internet a photograph of an individual taken by a law-enforcement agency pursuant to the arrest of the photographed individual, and thereby extorts money, property, or pecuniary benefit or any note, bond, or other evidence of debt from him or any other person, is guilty of a Class 5 felony”

The idea of redefining the legal definition of extortion might be more attractive to journalists than exempting access to booking photos which they would view as an attempt to erode the FOIA. Ideas to rein in the commercial use of public records also receive criticism from the same direction. This is because when something is defined as public record, freedom of the press favors giving the public the benefit of unchecked control of these documents whether they exist as population statistics, government-employee expenditure reports, or your embarrassing mug shot.

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A Step in the Right Direction: NJ bill banning mug shot release prior to conviction

Apparently, The New Jersey State Assembly has really put a damper on the celebrated release of the state’s “Best mug shots of 2013” by voting 69-11 in favor of A3906. Woe is NJ.com and every other NJ newspaper editorial board.  Making the assumption that lawmakers have a “lack of anything better to do,” the press has come out in full force to protest AGAINST a bill that would restrict police from releasing mug shots until after conviction.

The reason the press doesn’t like this bill is simply economical. The arguments they present against withholding mug shots until after conviction are equally ridiculous as they are disingenuous. Here’s just one example:

Q: What’s the point of trying to protect the reputation of the innocent by not releasing a mug shot if names will be released anyways?

A: It’s easier to defend one’s name if it’s not underneath a picture that makes one look guilty and ugly.

It’s worth noting that a competing bill solidifying mug shots as public records went nowhere despite receiving full support from the same news groups.

Please contact the New Jersey Senate and Governor Christie to voice your support for not releasing the mug shots of innocent people!

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Florida SB 298 & HB 265

Thanks to this fantastic New York Times article Google search results have kicked mugshot extortion websites to the curb. MasterCard, American Express, Discover and PayPal also sent the right message to consumers by shutting the door on these shady“businesses.”

It’s now overdue for the Florida Legislature to send a message to their innocent-until-proven-guilty-citizens and join the half dozen other states whose Senate and House both unanimously voted in favor of laws restricting online mugshot scams.

People MUST CONTACT FLORIDA LAWMAKERS and VOICE THEIR SUPPORT for SB298 and HB 265!

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SB 1289 Texas Has Gone Into Effect

Posted on September 11, 2013 by Bordeos2000

A new law in Texas “relating to certain business entities engaged in the publication of mug shots and other information regarding the involvement of an individual in the criminal justice system; providing a civil penalty” went into effect earlier this month. The passage of SB 1289 is just another step in the effort to stop the commercial mugshot publishing industry.

People ACTUALLY DO HAVE TO CONTACT THEIR LEGISLATORS now more than ever because, according to public record, online mugshot businesses are trying to prevent bills like SB 1289 from becoming law.

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The Resurgence of Public Shaming and the Perils of Publicity

Public humiliation as a means of punishment is alive and well in American courtrooms. Whether or not the scarlet letter approach of sentencing people to create “buzz” about their own indiscretions is what we need as a society makes for an interesting debate. However, publicly shaming someone for being CONVICTED of a crime is much different than shaming someone who has only been CHARGED with a crime.

Johnathan Eric Venable, 32, of Odessa, Texas, will be debuting ‘Mugshot Magazine’ on July 15th according to Newswest9. Like most other mug shot rag tycoons, Venable makes false claims of fighting crime and he believes the potential of embarrassment one receives by having him put a mug shot “on blast” will help members of the community reconsider committing crimes being arrested. The publisher contradicts his own intentions in the exact same article by asserting “that it’s not to humiliate anyone.” Slapping the cliché “innocent until proven guilty” disclaimer on whatever he prints allows him and those of his ilk to implement their brand of punishment while bypassing due process. Print is dead and the profit motive of these publications will force them to create an online presence. As pointed out back in December, mug shot tabloids can be the precursors of pay-to-remove websites and they both exploit the same loopholes in public records law while “chilling” the speech of their critics with identical (often hypocritical) reasoning like “don’t get arrested.”

Bad publicity has recently taken on a more vicious characteristic than P.T. Barnum could have ever predicted before he said his famous words. Internet users are embracing the trend of broadcasting personal information as a new form of bad publicity. This new form of “punishment” is, perhaps, justly applied to the most egregious of individuals who may or may not break the law but certainly do cross a line. Now, because of mug shot racket websites, you need only to be charged for any crime (eventually found innocent or not) to receive similar treatment. Broadcasting personal information online is a surefire way to offend someone on a personal level.

We certainly don’t want the man beating the hell out of people for petitioning the government. This is a legitimate reason for why government watchdogs would be interested in viewing an arrest photograph. Some political activists and protesters even go as far as to encourage the media to blast their mug shots everywhere after they’ve been arrested because it brings more publicity to their cause. A recent situation in North Carolina reveals there is a toxic side in creating an arrest record while participating in a civil protest. “Moral Monday” activists who were picked up by police soon discovered that just about every detail of their personal life was published online by Civitas, an organization with a differing political ideology. In an even more notably dickheaded-humilation tactic, Civitas went so far as to create an online game out of their mug shots. Many viewed these actions as a form of intimidation and the high volume of incidents forced the local police department to actually modify the arresting procedure of protesters.

The internet provides us with the ability to publicize something for an unlimited amount of time. So let us all keep this in mind and behave responsibly. And if ever in doubt refer back to The Golden Rule.

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FACT: Mugshot Extortion Websites Are Scams

But you don’t have take our word for it. Read about what the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center has to say. Then go file YOUR complaint.

WEBSITES POSTING MUG SHOTS AND EXTORTION

(IC3 Scam Alert June 19, 2013)

The IC3 has received hundreds of complaints from individuals claiming they located their mug shots on 20 different websites, all of which allegedly use similar business practices. Some victims reported they were juveniles at the time of the arrests and their records were sealed. Therefore, their information should not be available to the public. Others stated the information posted on the sites was either incorrect or blatantly false.

Complainants who requested to have their mug shot removed, had to provide a copy of their driver’s license, court record and other personal identifying information. However, providing such information puts those at risk for identify theft.

Complainants were also subject to paying a fee to have their mug shot removed. Although they paid the fee, some of the mug shots were not removed. If they were removed, the mug shots appeared on similar websites.

If the victim threatened to report the websites for unlawful practice, the websites’ owners threatened to escalate the damaging information against the victim.

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Mugshot Tabloid Publishing Awards

To help BUILD THE HYPE for the upcoming Mugshot Tabloid Hall of Shame Page, I am excited to announce our nomination for the 2013 Mugshot Tabloid Publisher of the Year Award!

It is my pleasure to present ….drumroll… David Bryant, 31, of Spartanburg, South Carolina!

Mr. Bryant, publisher of “Jail Birds”, is receiving the honor of this recommendation for not only laughing in the face of due process but for allegedly impersonating a sheriff’s deputy according to FOX Carolina.

Bryant earned his criminal charges for “larceny/securing property by fraudulent impersonation of an officer” after Verizon store employees suspected that he was trying to scam and intimidate them into giving him a free phone. It worked and Bryant successfully left the store with a $400 iphone he didn’t pay for. But– store employees notified the REAL police who then confirmed Bryant was completely full of shit.

Mr. Bryant’s actions show just how delusional people who commercially publish mugshots can be. Are they all unhinged enough to go around masquerading as law enforcement? Even better– does publishing mugshots make you a crime-fighting superhero? How about a reality check?

If you prevent and/or reduce crime let’s see the empirical evidence to go with it. Or do mugshot newspaper publishers actually commit more crimes than they prevent? Are they just a bunch of worthless hypocrites who don’t want to get real jobs?

Sure seems like it.

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Journalistic Commercial Mugshot Publishing III: Journalists Lobbying on Behalf of the Mugshot Racket?

Posted on April 22, 2013 by Bordeos2000

Journalists across the country are really stepping up to bat for the mug shot extortion industry by lobbying against legislation aimed to stop it. In order to fully understand the imprudence behind why they are doing this, we must commemorate the public outrage that ignited on Dec. 24, 2012 after staff at New York’s Journal News thought it would be a good idea to use public records and put together a map revealing the home addresses of gun-owners in the area.

When licensed gun-owners caught wind that these reporters decided to chart their home addresses by publishing them as red dots on a map, they fiercely rejected these actions. Asserting the newspaper had flagrantly disregarded their privacy, the dissenters attempted to prove their point by turning the tables on the Journal News’ staff. The newspaper was also unable to successfully fool anybody into thinking their project was simply about utilizing public data. Many pointed out that the newspaper’s intentions were tinged with a political motive meant to somehow imply gun-owners should be singled out and ashamed for exercising their 2nd amendment right. Lo and behold, there is now a law in New York exempting this information from public access.

Now let’s turn our attention back to those hideous mug shot tabloids. Some reporters claim these shame rags should be legal.  That’s not surprising– American journalists are, after all, the undisputed champions of mocking people who wind up posing for booking photographs. Justly, legitimate news organizations like the Richmond Times Dispatch deserve to be handsomely rewarded for their creativity and expertise.

Professional journalists know better than anybody the vast importance of maintaining an open government. This importance goes well beyond the Mugshot Racket. Therefore, I do not understand why those who only exclusively deal in mugshots for commercial purposes seem determined to prove to the world that they are the most outspoken defenders of the entire Freedom of Information Act.

When it comes to policies about public arrest records journalists need to be honest with themselves on privacy issues or we are all going to be sorry.

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