Monday, December 23, 2013

The big mug shot shakedown! Coming to Canada soon?

Police Mug Shots Can Haunt the Innocent
By David Segal
Sunday 22, 2013
On a terrifying night in July 2011, Dr. Janese Trimaldi, a physician in Florida, locked herself in her bedroom to hide from a drunken boyfriend. He went into the kitchen, retrieved a knife and jimmied open the door.

She said he was more than double her size. "So when he got in," Dr. Trimaldi said, "he lifted me by my arms, the way you lift a child, and threw me six feet backward."

A neighbour called the police.

The boyfriend contended a scratch on his chest had been inflicted by Dr. Trimaldi with the knife. She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The state dropped the charges, but a few months later, her arrest photograph turned up on a Florida mug-shot website and with it another mug shot from a 1996 arrest on an accusation of possession of marijuana and steroids. Records show that she was not prosecuted for either charge.

She paid $30 to have the images taken down from the site, but they appeared on others, one of which wanted $400 to pull the picture.

"I've read accounts of people paying and not having the photos removed," Dr. Trimaldi, 40 said. "Or they pay and appear on other sites." It's all a scheme, she added.

She is now gearing up for a job search and worries that two photographs could wreck years of hard work to practice medicine.

To Dr. Trimaldi and millions of other people now captured on these sites, this sounds like extortion.

The sites are legal in the United States. Some states are looking for ways to curb them. Utah, for example, prohibits county sheriffs from giving out booking photographs to a site that will charge to delete them.

But legislators are finding plenty of resistance, much of it from journalists who assert that public records should be just that: public. the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argues that any restriction on booking photographs impinges on editors' rights to determine what is newsworthy.

"What we have is a situation where people are doing controversial things with public records," said Mark Caramanica, a Director at the Committee, a nonprofit organization in Virginia. "But should we shutdown the entire data base because there are presumable bad actors out there?"

Paying hundreds to take a ;photo down feels like extortion.

Today there are more than 80 mug-shot sites in the United States. They get most of their images from police websites, where policies about whose mug shot is posted and for how long can vary form state to state.

Just Mugshots, started in 2012 by Arthur D'Antonio III, now has five employees, two of whom spend all their time dredging up images from 300 sources. The site has nearly 16.8 million such photos, Mr. D'Antonio said. He would not discuss profit, except to say, "We're seeing some growth."

JustMugshots has a "courtesy removal service," allowing people who have been exonerated, or never charged, to get their image taken down free. Mr. D'Antonio declined  to say how many people had been granted deletions.

People eager to vanish from mug-shot sites can try a mug-shot removal service, a mini-industry that has sprung up in the last two years, and is nearly as opaque as the one it is intended to counter. "I'm not going to go into what we do," said Tyronne Jacques, founder of RemoveSlander.com. "Whatever works."

Removal services aren't cheap - RemoveMyMug charges $899 for its "multiple mug shot package" - and owners of large reputation-management companies contend that they are a waste of money.

"Their business model is to find someone willing to pay to take down their image, which marks them as a target who is willing to pay more," says Mike Zammuto, President of the reputation company Brand.com.

Mug shots seem to attract big online crowds. Google's results are supposed to reflect both relevance and popularity, and mug-shot sites appear to rank exceptionally well, according to Doug Pierce, Founder of Cogney, a search engine optimization company based in Hong Kong.

"When others search your name, that link to Mugshots.com is way more attention-grabbing than your LinkedIn profile," Mr. Pierce said.

He added: "Once they click, they stare in disbelief and look around a bit, which means they stay on the page, rather than returning immediately to the search results. Google takes that as a sign that the site is relevant, and that boosts it even more."

CyberSmokeBlog: Recently an attractive, young Florida woman appeared on one of these sites. She was besieged with requests for dates.


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