Politics & Policies / Tech

Online Mugshots: A Vital Service or Internet Extortion?

If you spend a lot of time on the Internet, chances are that you’ve seen advertisements for websites claiming to show mug shots of people who have been arrested. These sites may appear shady, but they do present mug shots, as promised.

Over the past couple of years, more than a hundred websites have appeared showing mug shots of people who have been arrested, even those who haven’t been convicted of any wrongdoing. Some of these sites also have in-print magazines, such as Busted! and Mugly!

While these tabloids certainly have an audience, there are plenty of people who have argued convincingly that these sites and magazines are immoral and trashy. Many of the people in the mug shots were wrongfully detained, and some have had to pay a fee to have evidence of their sordid past removed. Critics argue that, for those reasons, these types of websites and magazines do more harm than good.

How Mug Shot Sites Work

On the surface, mug shot websites appear illegal. They can be considered an invasion of privacy, and the practice of charging a person a fee to have his or her image removed from such sites sounds like extortion.

Mug shots, however, are a public record, and in an era when everything available to the public can be found with a quick Google search, it’s very easy to access mug shots from arrests that occurred years ago, even without help from magazines like Busted! It’s easy for someone to search police websites for arrest records and post the latest and most sensational shots on their own website.

Naturally, the people who suffer most from these sites are those who were never convicted of a crime, yet still have their mug shot floating around the Internet. Many mug shot sites will take down a person’s photograph if there is proof that the individual was indeed cleared of any wrongdoing, but in many cases, people have to pay hundreds of dollars to have these embarrassing photos removed. Even worse, a photo’s disappearance from a certain website can be insufficient. Thanks to the ubiquity of these sites, an individual’s mug shot may be plastered all over the internet, making it hard for the photo to ever truly go away.

A Public Service or Extortion?

Defenders and owners of mug shot websites like to claim that they are providing a valuable public service. Some of the more embarrassing mug shots on these sites can act as a deterrent for would-be criminals. Prospective criminals may see some of these ridiculous mug shots, realize that they don’t want a piece of this kind of Internet immortality, and think twice about wrongdoing. Mug shot sites can also be used to monitor suspicious individuals, and can be useful resources for employers.

Still, the prevalence of mug shots online isn’t fair to those who have been arrested and exonerated. Those individuals may not have a criminal record, but on the Internet, they are guilty until proven innocent. Or worse.


Jared Pilkington is a freelance writer based in Manhattan, NYC. Jared frequently writes on law, politics, society, insurance and other important topics; he recommends that those concerned about protecting their ID view and consider the ID theft services by Protect Your Bubble.

Image credit goes to angus mcdiarmid.