If your physician has diagnosed you with low blood pressure, I recommend reading this New York Times piece about mugshot websites, which post the photos of arrestees and then charge people to have their photos removed. That includes a woman who was charged with aggravated assault by the domestic partner who attacked her with a knife. The charges were dismissed, but the mugshot endures as a source of extortion revenue for the website operators. This sort of behavior reminds you of the reason for the belief in Hell.
I’m glad to see that Google and the some credit-card companies – but not, disgracefully, Visa – were moved by inquiries from the Times to distance themselves from this racket. But Mark Caramanica, the flack for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press demonstrates why flackery is bad for the soul by denouncing any attempt to rein in this abuse:
It’s an effort to deny history. I think it’s better if journalists and the public, not the government, are the arbiters of what the public gets to see.
Forget the fact that the people running these websites aren’t “journalists,” and that the public currently has no power at all over what’s going on. Someone told Mr. Caramanica that his job was to oppose any restriction on the publication of information, and by God that’s what he’s going to do – as long as his paycheck continues to clear – no matter who gets hurt in the process. Feh.
Some questions for our lawyer-readers:
1. My understanding of the law is that extorting money by threatening to reveal unfavorable information about someone constitutes the crime of blackmail, even if the information is true. Does the fact that the unfavorable information is public record change matters? Or that the process is revealing the information first and then demanding money to stop revealing it?
2. If not, can’t some local prosecutor simply charge the website operators with blackmail, giving us an opportunity to see their mugshots on line? It seems to me there should be venue where the victim lives, independent of the location of the website operator. [Note to federal prosecutors: extortion and blackmail are RICO predicate offenses.]
3. Could Congress pass something parallel to the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require, at least, that information about exoneration be published along with the mugshot? Was FCRA the subject of a Constitutional challenge, and, if so, on what basis did it survive?
4. Going forward, why should state and local government treat arrest records and mugshots as public records? By statute, couldn’t they claim copyright, and use their own powers (under, e.g., the DMCA) to regulate the use of what would then be their images and records, or allow private-attorney-general actions to assert those rights on their behalf in defense of those not convicted?
There’s a broader issue here. The Fifth Amendment forbids the deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That innocent people should sometimes be arrested is inevitable unless we can equip police with powers of omniscience. But the existence of an arrest record, even without a conviction, has many bad consequences. By maintaining arrest databases and making them available to others, the state in effect continues to punish someone for a crime of which that person was not convicted by due process of law. Why shouldn’t that be ruled unconstitutional?