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Are mugshots ever deleted from the web? Even if you were never charged for a crime, your mugshot could still be found online. Here’s everything you need to know about finding and removing your mugshot from the Internet.
Whether you’re applying for a job, looking for an apartment, or simply keeping track of your online reputation, chances are you have looked up your own name in a search engine. It may have shocked you to see personal information pop up in the results — especially images like mugshots. These photographs, taken when someone is being booked in police custody, don’t signify whether someone was actually guilty of a crime. In fact, you may have had your photograph taken in police custody and never even been charged! Nevertheless, it can be damaging to your reputation to have arrest records or a mugshot image circulating so easily accessible.
If you’re facing such a case and looking to get your mugshot removed from the Internet, there are solutions. Keep reading to learn of the different paths forward, including professional services that can help.
The modern-day notion of mugshots began in the mid-1800s in Europe, and gained notoriety in the United States when the Pinkerton National Detective Agency began using mugshots on wanted posters for fugitives. They continued to grow in popularity as a way of keeping track of convicted prisoners and receiving the public’s help in identifying criminals.
Nowadays, an arrested person is usually made to hold a sign that indicates sensitive personal information like name, date of birth, and weight while being photographed, and the mug shot is then uploaded to a digital registry. Mugshots are often pulled up when people are applying to jobs, apartments, or — in today’s digital age — even going on a first date. Much has been written about the many discriminatory ways mugshots are referenced in everything from employment to housing and have even been criticized as having a negative effect on juries.
One of the first questions many people ask is, “How did my mugshot get released in the first place?” Unfortunately, mugshots are a matter of public record, as a result of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which, starting in 1967, made everything from marriage certificates to death certificates part of the public domain. In 1996, an amendment to the Act made it even easier to access this type of information electronically.
Juvenile records are usually withheld from the public, but in some rare cases, juvenile mugshots are uploaded if they commit a crime that causes them to be charged as adults. There are also severe laws regarding the publication of information related to sex offenders — depending on the crime, it may actually be required for a mugshot to be stored in an online database, for the public view.
Certain states also have specific laws that prohibit public access to mugshots, depending on the crime committed, but in many cases, local or federal government databases freely upload mugshots on a daily basis. You can check the inmate search tool on your state’s department of corrections website, for instance, or Google the websites of your local police departments and sheriff’s office. From these databases, humans or even bots can pull mugshot images and post them anywhere else, and they often begin to spread like wildfire across mugshot-based websites.
There are dozens of websites that claim to operate as “news” outlets in order to avoid legal scrutiny and gain a more prominent position in search engine results. In the 21st century, mugshots have become big business. Even actual newspapers and celebrity tabloids will publish mugshots to generate better sales. While these outlets state that they’re providing an important public service, or even aiding in apprehending criminals, they’re actually damaging reputations without repercussions.
Beyond just mugshots, these sites often also post information like criminal records, social media handles, and even addresses often pulled from police reports. Beyond making difficulties with a potential employer or romantic interest, this type of information opens the door to identity theft. So how can the average person begin the mugshot removal process when it seems so daunting?
There are a number of steps you can take to get your mugshot removed from the Internet — but these have different levels of difficulty depending on your own personal circumstances. You can begin by attempting to figure out how many sites have published your arrest record and mug shots. Just do a Google search of your name and check the “images” section for your mug shot. You can also scour sites like FindMugshots.com and PrisonHandbook.com, or check the app JailBase and search for your arrest records.
Once you’ve compiled a list of the sites that have your pictures and arrest records, you can attempt to reach out to them individually. It’s important to note that in many states, it is illegal for a website to make you pay for the removal of mugshots. However, this doesn’t stop a lot of websites from trying to do so. And unfortunately, getting the mugshot removed from these sites does not ensure it will be erased from the Internet permanently.
Another legal route for mugshot removal you can take is to get your record expunged or sealed. Most people don’t have the time or resources to take this step, but if you did commit a crime that fits within expungement law, you can file expungement paperwork, get it approved by a court, and send the paperwork to the mugshot site as proof. If the site still refuses to take down your mug shot, you may need to get a court order that commands the site to remove the mugshot. Work with an attorney to see if expungement is a proper route for your case, as sealed or expunged records can be beneficial in stopping future mugshot images from circulating online.
Knowing that the individual sites may not ensure your mugshots are permanently deleted, some hope that Google can delete the images. Mugshot removal on Google can be a challenge. Unfortunately, Google will only do so if there are legal reasons that back up your request. This will require you to prove that the images are damaging you from a legal standpoint, which can be difficult to achieve since the mugshots are likely in the public record.
Having your record expunged or having a statement from a criminal defense attorney that charges were dropped or dismissed can serve as legal reasons for mugshot removal on Google. Check with the company’s content removal policy for details.
Another tactic one can take is to try and bury the damaging information rather than delete it. In most cases, a potential employer wouldn’t look beyond the first page of results when Googling your name — so you can hypothetically publish enough new information about yourself to push your criminal record to the second page. Obviously, this takes a fair amount of time and energy, as you’ll need to post a lot of information to populate the search engine results; blog posts, social media accounts, news articles, and more will be needed to fill up the results page. And of course, this wouldn’t mean your mugshot is removed from the internet, only pushed farther down online.
If all of the above steps still sound extremely overwhelming, you can turn to the professionals and hire a content removal specialist. A third-party company such as an online reputational management (ORM) firm can erase mugshots for you, and even tackle other records that may be on the Internet damaging your reputation. For a fee, an ORM can identify and permanently delete — not just bury — mug shots and other public records. Whereas an average sleuth may spend hours combing through databases and mugshot sites, an ORM has access to services and technology that allows them to find mugshots and public records much faster.
Generally, they only charge clients once content is completely removed, and promise that, once removed, any damaging online content is gone for life. This ensures that your criminal record information doesn’t affect any future employment opportunities or other personal endeavors.
ORMs can also assist in reputation management, something that’s become increasingly popular in recent years. You may want to create a more positive online presence so that you or your business is always at the top of the search results in the best way. For instance, they can write articles in your area of expertise to establish you and your firm as a thought leader in your niche market. An ORM can also optimize your website, including the About Us and bio section, for search and page ranking. New and relevant content keeps you at the top of every Google search and puts the Internet on your side.
These specialists do more than just blog on your behalf — they use advanced strategies to tackle the Google algorithm and rank your business higher up in the various search engines. Working with an ORM can give your company a leg up against the competition when it comes to online traffic.
Ultimately, every individual should pursue a course of action that’s best for them, whether it’s getting their criminal records sealed or expunged, attempting the mugshot removal process on their own, or working with a reputation management company to handle the job. The unfortunate truth is that most mugshots may never get fully deleted unless you work with a professional, as it’s not against the law to post them. Until widespread laws are instituted on how we treated those who are arrested and how their public records are disseminated, average citizens will continue to remain under threat from the mug shot publishing industry.