Mug Shot Websites Claim First Amendment Right To Publish Old Photos


People across the U.S. still are discovering that past arrests — many for charges eventually dismissed or that resulted in convictions later expunged — make them part of an unwilling, potentially enormous customer base for a fast-proliferating number of mug shot web sites, reports the Associated Press. With a business model built on technology, the weaknesses of human nature, and the reach of the First Amendment, the sites are proving that in the Internet age, old assumptions about people’s ability to put the past behind them no longer apply.

The sites, some charging more than $1,000 to “unpublish” records of multiple arrests, have prompted lawsuits in Ohio and Pennsylvania by people whose mug shots they posted for a global audience. They have prompted efforts by legislators in Georgia and Utah to pass laws making it easier to remove arrest photos from the sites without charge. Site operators and critics agree that efforts to rein them in treads on uncertain legal ground, made more complicated because some sites hide their ownership and location and purport to operate from outside the U.S. “The First Amendment gives people the right to do this,” said Marc Epstein, a Florida attorney for, which lists an address on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

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