By Vince Horiuchi The Salt Lake Tribune
Last month, a bored Phillip Cabibi decided to perform a “vanity search” of himself on Google. The Internet search of his own name didn’t reveal much at first.
There was his LinkedIn account. And his Facebook page. Then his name on Meetup.com for a group of Italian Americans.
But then came the shock.
“At the very end is when I saw my mugshot,” said Cabibi, 31, an enterprise applications administrator from Draper. “I was pretty flabbergasted.”
He then learned he could get his booking photo removed from the site – for $399.
Cabibi found himself trapped in an emerging Internet niche that’s akin to the modern-day scarlet letter: websites that post jail mugshots of people in local towns. At least one site will charge you to take your photo off. Another has made a deal with a separate website that charges to remove them.
Four years ago, Cabibi was arrested about 20 miles west of Tampa, Fla., in Pinellas County for driving under the influence. He was coming home from a University of Florida-Florida State football game.
“I had a girl with me. I was sort of trying to impress her. I was speeding, and I was pulled over. I had a few beers,” he said. “I made a stupid decision.”
He was booked into the county jail, where his mugshot was taken. He later pleaded no contest, paid a $900 fine and was placed on probation for six months. He thought that would be the end of it.
But four years later, there was Cabibi’s mugshot staring back at him on Florida.Arrests.org, which is operated by Craig Robert Wiggens. It displays all jail mugshots of those arrested each day in Florida.
Florida.Arrests.org is one of many ad-supported websites that have cropped up in the past year that post jail mugshots of ordinary citizens nationwide. And several of them – like Mugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com, LookWhoGotBusted.com and SLCMugshots.com – list current mugshots of Utah arrests from jails in Salt Lake, Weber and Utah counties.
Some sites offer to remove the mugshots for a price. MugShotsList.com (which includes Utah jail photos) says it will delete a booking photo for a $12.95 “processing fee.” Until just recently, SLCMugshots.com charged a $49 “administrative cost” to take down a mugshot (it did away with the fee two weeks ago). And Florida.Arrests.org webmaster Wiggens gets paid whenever a mugshot is removed from his site in a different kind of deal.
A separate website called RemoveSlander.com says it will purge your arrest mug from Florida.Arrests.org for a $399 fee. The appearance is that these two sites are at odds – one site posts the mugs, another fights for you to take them down.
But in an interview with technology website Wired.com, Wiggens acknowledged he gave RemoveSlander.com a URL so it could automatically take a mugshot off his site. Each time RemoveSlander does, $9.95 is paid to Wiggens. Other sites such as HideMyMugshot.com and RemoveArrest.com say they too will delete booking photos specifically from Florida.Arrests.org.
When Cabibi saw his mugshot, he paid RemoveSlander.com the $399 fee to take it off.
“My original thought was I just wanted to get it [the mugshot] off,” he said about why he’s willing to talk about his jail booking even though he paid hundreds of dollars to hide it. “But then I found out how big of a scam this was. And it’s legal. It boggles my mind that it’s allowed to go on.”
Jail mugshots are considered public information and already are on display on many sheriff’s office websites around the country. The Ogden Standard-Examiner’s website also runs each day’s booking photos from the Weber County Jail. These mugshot sites simply run automated software that seek out those booking photos.
Salt Lake County Jail commander Rollin Cook said there’s nothing he or other jails can do about it.
“We’re aware that they’re out there. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking for us because our intent is not to humiliate but to provide information. But there are people who are doing it to extort or humiliate.”
Calls and emails to Wiggens and his Florida.Arrests.org, as well as Bustedmugshots.com, SLCMugshots.com and LookWhoGotBusted.com, were not returned after repeated attempts. Those who replied from Mugshots and a Facebook page devoted to Salt Lake County booking photos called Look Who’s Busted Salt Lake City refused to give their names or titles.
Operators say they created the sites for the sole purpose to alert citizens to arrests in their communities.
“I think that the people of Salt Lake should know what is going on around them and their children on a daily basis,” said the administrator of the Look Who’s Busted Facebook page. “The man standing next to you in 7-Eleven could have been arrested two days ago, for example, for vehicle burglary, and you would never even know it.”
An employee from Mugshots.com who did not want to be identified or reveal their position described their site as “a useful public service.”
“We post only true and factual information as originally published by local law enforcement agencies,” the person said in an email. “We make no judgment, we take no sides.”
Some sites will freely take down photos upon request if the person was wrongly arrested, the charges are dropped or the case leads to an acquittal. Mugshots.com and others, including the Standard-Examiner, by policy do not remove mugshots from their sites if the defendant has been found not guilty or their record has been expunged.
“That just completely takes presumption of innocence and turns it on its head,” said criminal defense attorney Steven Shapiro. “They [the falsely accused] really struggle to get their good name back when maybe they haven’t done anything wrong.”
Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney Ron Yengich also calls these sites “a form of extortion.” He also thinks they’re “despicable.”
“The public at large loves to see people degraded. We have become a very mean society and a society without mercy or one that doesn’t understand the presumption of innocence at all,” he said. “It does not add anything to the public debate about crime and how we deal with crime. It just gives the citizenry at large a way to make fun of people.”
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How People Profit from Your Online Mug Shot and Ruin Your Life Forever
This July, Yolina (not her real name) was giving a language lesson to one of her students over the phone when he said he had something to tell her. She hadn’t always taught over such long distances before—she was in California, her student in the Midwest—but after being laid off from her 14-year job as a community college language instructor last year, she’s taken odd gigs whenever she can get them.
“What is it?” Yolina asked in her thick Polish accent.
“I found your mug shot,” her student answered.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Your mug shot,” he responded. “From when you got arrested in December.”
Yolina was taken aback. “I was humiliated,” she tells me in a phone call this month. “I had no idea it was out there.”
In December 2011, just weeks after losing her job, Yolina and her husband flew to Florida to go on a cruise. They’d been planning it for months and assumed it would be helpful for Yolina to blow off some steam during a difficult period in her life. One night, before the cruise took off from Ft. Lauderdale, the couple went to dinner at a restaurant not far from their hotel. Yolina says her husband drank at the meal, over which they also started to get into an argument about a professional relationship he was having with a former lover. Their bickering escalated during the drive home, and soon they were lost, which added fuel to the fight.
Yolina says her husband eventually reached out and grabbed her arm, hard, to try and calm her down. “I didn’t want to tolerate that,” Yolina says, “so I scratched his arm.”
From there, things devolved even more, and the couple ended up pulling over, totally disoriented, and engaging in a full-on shouting match in a parking lot. The police came, saw the scratch marks on Yolina’s husband’s arm, and arrested her for domestic battery. Yolina says her husband pleaded with the police to try and stop them, to no avail.
A couple months after getting back from Florida, Yolina says she pleaded no contest to her misdemeanor charges and paid a $2,500 fine. She and her husband are still married and she’s getting some part-time teaching jobs again. For the most part, things are getting back to normal—everything but that damn mug shot, that is. Several websites have now acquired Yolina’s smirking, bleary-eyed mug shot, which is free, easy to do, and legal in Florida. It runs alongside links to her Twitter profile, her Facebook page, even her California address and a picture of her home.
She’s begged a few sites to remove it and they’ve complied free of charge, but others have demanded hundreds of dollars to take it down. Yolina can’t afford to pay them all, and even if she could, there’s no guarantee another site wouldn’t post her picture again. What hurts most is that she believes the mug shot has severely hurt her chances of finding another full-time job. She’s been seeking employment for months.
“I’m a 53-year-old teacher,” Yolina tells me, “I’m a good person. But this makes me feel very embarrassed and angry.”
The early 21st century will be remembered by many images: Twitter avatars, Instagram pictures, and gifs are a few that quickly come to mind. But the mug shot is fast becoming one of the most relevant graphics of modern culture. Thanks to lenient public-records laws, a vengeful justice system, people’s innate desire to laugh at others’ misfortunes, and, most importantly, the internet, the nearly 200-year-old mug shot is having a major renaissance. And what that renaissance says about society is not good.
Like Yolina, Philip Cabibi made a stupid mistake. Back in 2007, after hanging out in a bar and watching college football with some friends, Cabibi, who was 27 at the time, got in his car drunk and started driving home. When the cops pulled him over, Cabibi’s blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit, and he was arrested and booked in Palm Harbor, Florida. Also like Yolina, Cabibi ultimately pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and paid a fine, and he then lived for six months on probation. Four years later, during the kind of Google search we all do for ourselves from time to time, Cabibi found that on the first page of his results was his mug shot, which had been posted on the website florida.arrests.org.
Aghast, Cabibi hastily went searching for a way to get his picture off the site, which is how he came across “reputation management firm” RemoveSlander.com. RemoveSlander promised to get Cabibi’s mug shot taken down within an hour, and all for a fee of just $399. Cabibi paid them, and his mug shot was indeed gone almost right away. But then reality set in.
“I realized it’s just going to pop up on more sites, and more sites after that,” he tells me. “I’m just glad American Express refunded my money.”
Cabibi is now happy, living in the Salt Lake City area, and working in applications administration at Adobe. But as fine as his life is, he says he has to force himself to not remember that his mug shot is out there on several easily found websites for the whole world to see. That can be difficult for someone who uses the internet as often as he does. Cabibi says that, more than once, during discussions he’s been having on message boards, people who disagree with him have posted his mug shot to try and end the conversation. It’s become a sort of humiliating trump card people use to rub in his face, regardless of whether it pertains to the conversation at hand.
“I was an idiot,” Cabibi says, “but does that warrant having my stupid, drunken picture immortalized for everyone to look at? I don’t think so.”
Cabibi was the main case for a Wired story from late last year that detailed the cottage industry growing around mug shot websites. Mug shots have become easy for private citizens to obtain in states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and others thanks to wide-open public-records laws. Animated by the desire to be transparent, police and sheriff’s departments dump all their mug shots and the accompanying booking details into searchable databases. It’s from those databases that enterprising citizens can use screen-scraping programs to expeditiously snag every new and old mug shot from a department’s system, and then post them to their own sites. Even people who are never prosecuted or are proven innocent go into these databases. The result is an internet lousy with mug shot purveyors, from mugshots.com to mugshotsusa.com to bustedmugshots.com. In 2011, florida.arrests.org, where Cabibi found his picture, had more than 4 million mug shots in its collection, and it adds about 1,500 more each day.
A lot of these websites make money from ad revenue alone via Google AdSense banners, but, as Wired uncovered, some of the sites also work in cahoots with mug shot-removal services to boost profits. Florida.arrests.org, for instance, has given the people behind RemoveSlander.com a URL through which they can click a button and make a PayPal payment of $19.90. That nominal fee, which florida.arrests.org keeps for itself, disappears the mug shot from the site and eliminates it from Google’s index, and RemoveSlander.com keeps the remainder of its $399 fee. To take down mug shots from three websites, RemoveSlander charges $699, and for six websites the price is $1,299. It’s not a difficult process, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it from those prices. The RemoveSlander website makes its work sound like the work requires top lawyers. Still, their catchphrase is effective: “Bail out of Google.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just the straightforward moneymaking sites cashing in on the mug shot craze. Countless other mainstream organizations, from sheriff’s departments to newspapers, have created outlets for average citizens to come and poke fun at their arrested peers. Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, domain of the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, posts all of its booking photos, and allows people to vote on a “Mugshot of the Day.” The Tumblr blog Hot & Busted highlights the handsomest mug shots its readers can find—square jaws and boyish grins are juxtaposed with the men’s charges. And then there’s the proliferation of news sites that publish mug shot galleries: the Chicago Tribune does it, as does the Washington Post (though at least D.C. police won’t release mug shots until after a criminal is convicted). But the most consistent mug shot newspaper gallery belongs to alt weekly the Miami New Times.
The Miami New Times‘ website produces Mugshots Friday, a weekly rundown of the strangest booking photos taken that week accompanied by captions that generally focus on the subject’s appearance (sample quote: “This guy though—he just rubs us the wrong way”). The series started in 2010, when a New Times staffer, Gus Garcia-Roberts, came across and posted to the paper’s blog a mug shot of a man who was missing a significant portion of his skull. Garcia-Roberts called him the “half-head man,” and his photo produced “like a million hits,” estimates the New Times‘ editor in chief, Chuck Strouse. Strouse tells me that the success of “half-head man” led Garcia-Roberts to begin a weekly feature, which has continued even after he left the paper months ago.
But for all the web traffic it drives, Mugshots Friday is not without its critics. “There’s been some online sniping,” admits Strouse, “but is there anything out there that doesn’t get online sniping?” I ask Strouse if he thinks Mugshots Friday aligns well with what many believe the job of alt weeklies to be, which is protecting the little guy. “Look, have we gone over the line sometimes?” he says. “Maybe. But do I regret it and think we should stop it? No. Do I think we should patrol it carefully to not make fun of the wrong people? Probably.”
Strouse says that whatever happens with Mugshots Friday, he hopes readers realize that “in every circumstance, it’s done in good fun.”
Good intentions or not, for millions of people who have been arrested in certain counties in the United States, the online mug shot industry has become a real-life nightmare. To try and better understand these people’s plight, Danielle Dirks, assistant professor of sociology at Occidental College, is putting together a study based on interviews with men and women who have had their mug shots put on the internet. She calls the phenomenon “penal spectatorship.”
“This is the public stocks,” she says. “This is shaming.”
Dirks says what’s probably most scary about the rise of mug shot websites and mug shot photo galleries is that nowadays one single crime can follow a person forever—even if they don’t end up being charged or convicted of anything.
“This is part of punishment now,” she says. “Your punishment doesn’t end when you leave jail anymore. Now it will follow you forever and ever. It’s not going to go away, which is why you see people scrambling so hard to try and pay services to scrub their pictures from the mug shot websites.”
Though she’s only about halfway through with her study, Dirks says the people she’s researched thus far have generally had four things in common: they’ve been white, they’ve been well-educated, their crimes have been minor, and they’ve been terrified. “Every day these people live in fear,” she says. “They can’t walk past a couple coworkers laughing to one another without assuming someone Googled them and forwarded their mug shot to the whole office.” Others have reported worrying about applying to jobs and having a potential future employer discover their crimes. Not even love lives are safe: After one man finally got the guts to tell his girlfriend that he’d been arrested and his mug shot was now online, she summarily dumped him.
When it comes to mug shot mockery galleries, like Mugshot Fridays, Dirks believes the public’s fascination with thinking itself superior to criminals is at play. “It’s a way of reaffirming your values,” she says. “You say, ‘I’m not a criminal. I’m law abiding. I don’t do drugs or sell crack.'”
That sense of superiority has some ugly consequences. For proof of how callous people have become about online mug shots, one need only peruse the comment section on mugshots.com, which allows you to weigh in on strangers’ mug shots through your Facebook page. On one page, a pretty 22-year-old woman with meth-related scabs covering her face looks out dead-eyed from a mug shot taken in Oklahoma. One of the top comments, with 92 likes, reads, “Is sperm that corrosive over time?”
This kind of knee-jerk cruelty is typical of the cesspool that is an internet comment section. But Dirks warns that in a country that leads the world in incarceration per capita—where people are arrested and thrown in jail for the most minor of nonviolent offenses—you’d be a fool to think that this couldn’t happen to you one day. “You point and you laugh, but then you get a DUI and you can’t believe how awful this system is,” she says.
Changing the mug shot industry will be difficult, as it’s hard to drum up sympathy among Congress and voters for people caught committing crimes. But Dirks says one piece of legislation that might end this racket is to make mug shots copyrighted works that can’t be reproduced or monetized. Then states could keep a database for transparency purposes, but the pictures would no longer be as easily exploited by anyone with dreams of low-level extortion or a desire to humiliate a foe.
If any legislation does come to pass, it’s probably years away, meaning the mug shots that are already out there can be duplicated time and again for whatever purposes someone sees fit. In the meantime, Yolina has resigned herself to the fact that her mug shot is everywhere, and there’s nothing she can really do about it. “I know now that some sites will keep me up there forever, and so I have to let people decide for themselves,” she says. “I’m a good person, and if they want to find that out, they can ask me. If they don’t want to find that out because of the mug shot, well, what can I do?”
If you’ve got a mug shot online and would like to participate in Professor Dirks’ study, you can email her here.
Top image composed of a public domain mugshot from Georgia.
Mug-Shot Industry Will Dig Up Your Past, Charge You to Bury It Again
By David KravetsEmail Author
Ex-con Rob Wiggen gets hate mail daily for running a website that hosts 4 million mug shots. Photo by James Branaman/Wired.com
Philip Cabibi, a 31-year-old applications administrator in Utah, sat at his computer one recent Sunday evening and performed one of the compulsive rituals of the Internet Age: the ego search. He typed his name into Google to take a quick survey of how the internet sees him, like a glance in the mirror.
There were two LinkedIn hits, three White Pages listings, a post he made last year to a Meetup forum for Italian-Americans in the Salt Lake City area. Then, coming in 10th place — barely crawling onto the first page of search results — was a disturbing item.
“Philip Cabibi Mugshot,” read the title. The description was “Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail.”
When he clicked through, Cabibi was greeted with his mug shot and booking information from his 2007 drunk-driving arrest in Florida. It’s an incident in Cabibi’s life that he isn’t proud of, and one that he didn’t expect to find prominently listed in his search results four years later, for all the world to see.
The website was florida.arrests.org, a privately run enterprise that siphons booking photos out of county-sheriff databases throughout the Sunshine State, and posts them where Google’s web crawlers can see them for the first time. Desperate to get off the site, Cabibi quickly found an apparent ally: RemoveSlander.com. “You are not a criminal,” the website said reassuringly. “End this humiliating ordeal … Bail out of Google. We can delete the mug-shot photo.”
Cabibi paid RemoveSlander $399 by credit card, and within a day, the site had come through. His mug shot was gone from florida.arrests.org, and his Google results were clean.
“The RemoveSlander site was perfect. It seemed like it was just tailored to the mug-shot site,” Cabibi said in a recent telephone interview from Orem, Utah. “I searched ‘how to remove mug shots from florida.arrests.org,’ and the site was the first result. And I paid.”
‘Of course I’m not going to have my mug on my site.’
With that, Cabibi passed through one of the latest niche industries on the web: the mug-shot racket. Exploiting Florida’s liberal public-records laws and Google’s search algorithms, a handful of entrepreneurs are making real money by publicly shaming people who’ve run afoul of Florida law. Florida.arrests.org, the biggest player, now hosts more than 4 million mugs.
On the other side of the equation are firms like RemoveSlander, RemoveArrest.com and others that sometimes charge hundreds of dollars to get a mugshot removed. On the surface, the mug-shot sites and the reputation firms are mortal enemies. But behind the scenes, they have a symbiotic relationship that wrings cash out of the people exposed.
Florida.arrests.org is the brainchild of a computer-savvy Florida ex-con named Rob Wiggen. The 32-year-old served three years in federal prison for participating in a small-time credit-card-skimming operation (.pdf) out of a Mexican restaurant in Tallahassee.
When he got out of jail in 2007, he was looking for more legitimate opportunities. Last year he seized on the idea of repurposing the booking photos that Florida police departments are obliged to make public under the state’s sunshine laws.
The front page of florida.mugshots.org
Getting the photos is not completely straightforward: There is no central government repository. Instead, the mugshots and booking details are available on about five dozen different searchable web databases run by local police and sheriff’s departments. Wiggen said he wrote screen-scraping software to perform searches on 37 of the counties, crawling to get arrests stretching back years, and continuously polling the sites for new busts, which he scarfs down at a rate of 1,500 a day.
Robert Wiggen’s 2005 mug shot. Courtesy Leon County Sheriff’s Office
Visitors to his site can comment on the photos, or browse them by tags like “Celebrity,” “Hotties,” “Trannies,” “Tatted up” and “WTF.” Most of the photos are of adults, but children as young as 11 are also on display if they’re accused of adult crimes.
Wiggen said he wasn’t setting out to shame or embarrass anyone: From his point of view, he’s getting free content, then monetizing it with Google AdSense banners hawking defense lawyers and bail bondsmen. But the end result is that mug shots that were once hidden behind police CGI search scripts now display in Google searches, often prominently.
Wiggen’s own mug shot is noticeably absent from florida.arrests.org. “Of course I’m not going to have my mug on my site,” he told Wired.com.
His year-old business has earned him enemies. Wiggen said he receives about 100 angry e-mails, and a few snail-mail letters, every day from people whose booking photos are displayed on his site. “Obviously, they’re really nasty,” he said of the messages. “I never thought I’d get this backlash from individuals. I just never imagined it.”
Among his harshest public critics is the reputation-management company RemoveSlander.com. “Thousands of people are being criminalized by mug-shot websites that collect ad revenue at their expense!” snarls the company’s promotional YouTube video, “How To Remove Florida Arrests.org.”
“Even defendants whose cases were dismissed are finding their mugs hot on the internet,” the company’s website adds. “Every time someone clicks on your page to view your mug shots, sites like Florida Arrests earns a little more cash from Google…. We have perfected the art of fighting mug-shot websites.”
For $399, RemoveSlander promises to take that fight to florida.arrests.org, and force Wiggen to remove a mug shot. RemoveSlander’s owner, Tyronne Jacques — the author of How to Fight Google and Win! — said the removal fee pays for his crack legal team to deal with florida.arrests.org, and to force Google to get the URL removed from Google’s search index.
Asked how he accomplishes that, Jacques told Wired.com it was “a trade secret.” A recent press release from the company called the work “daunting.”
“It can’t happen by magic,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are legal means that we use…. There is a tremendous amount of work to get the photos down.”
Other sites offering the same service are also closed-mouthed about their methods. The site RemoveArrest.com often enjoys advertising right on Wiggen’s site through Google’s algorithm-driven AdSense program. Joe Ellis, the operator of RemoveArrest.com, said his method is “proprietary,” but that he’s used it to get “hundreds” of mugs removed at $129 each.
It turns out, though, removing mug shots from florida.arrest.org is not as labor-intensive or arcane a process as the reputation companies claim. The real trade secret is that Wiggen wants a small piece of the action.
Wiggen said he has provided RemoveSlander an URL for an automated takedown script on his site. A PayPal payment of just $9.95 will automatically purge a mug shot from the site. For an expedited removal from Google’s index, which Wiggen’s code performs through Google’s Webmaster tools interface, the fee is $19.90. Wiggen said other removal sites also make use of that same URL, but he declined to name them.
RemoveSlander “presses a button and makes a payment, and my website handles it automatically,” Wiggen said.
Wired.com tried the interface independently, and for $19.90 we removed the mugshot of a randomly chosen misdemeanor defendant, which disappeared from the site inside 10 minutes.
Wiggen said about 750 mugs have been removed from florida.arrests.org since he launched the site last year — some of them he took down himself in response to e-mail requests, but most were performed by reputation-management firms like RemoveSlander. He appears content to let those companies take the lion’s share of the mug-shot removal profits.
The bulk of florida.arrests.org’s income comes from advertising, not mug-shot removal fees, he said, declining to otherwise discuss his revenue. “I’m not getting rich,” he said.
‘The business model seems to be to generate embarrassment and then remove the source of the embarrassment for a fee.’
The reputation companies, though, appear to be doing pretty well. Of the $399 that Cabibi paid to RemoveSlander, $19.90 would have wound up with the mug-shot site that exposed him in the first place, and $379.10 with the company that promised to “fight” for him. By its own count, RemoveSlander has removed more than 300 mug shots.
Wired.com asked RemoveSlander’s Jacques if it’s true he’s paying $19.90 for his $399 service. That end of the business, he said, was handled by a partner, who was not available to be interviewed. Ellis, the owner of RemoveArrest.com, would neither confirm nor deny his use of the automated takedown tool.
None of this appears to be illegal, but it demonstrates an unintended consequence of state transparency laws — of which Florida’s is among the nation’s strongest.
“The business model seems to be to generate embarrassment and then remove the source of the embarrassment for a fee,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, and one of the nation’s leading open-records advocates.
“So the whole practice is designed to exploit human weakness,” said Aftergood. “From an information policy point of view, it is also likely to have adverse consequences. People are more likely to say, ‘Who needs it, let’s seal all of these records.’ That would be an unfortunate consequence.”
The State of Florida is unapologetic about the market its mug-shot posts have enabled. “We are very public-record–friendly. We are one of the most transparent states out there,” Kristi Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said. “As soon as a photo is taken at a booking facility, it becomes a public record.”
Craig Rockenstein, assistant general counsel for the department, declined to discuss the matter. “I’ve been here 25 years, and that’s the first time I was ever asked that,” he said.
The sudden ubiquity of mug-shot websites has prompted David Haenel, a Florida criminal-defense attorney, to advise clients to surrender themselves to small town sheriff’s departments where bookings are so infrequent that Wiggen and others won’t bother scraping their web sites for fresh mug shots.
“I have them go to a county I know they are not scraping the data from,” said Haenel, who practices in Sarasota, Florida.
If someone does wind up on florida.arrests.org, though, Haenel will get the photo removed for a $1,250 fee through his own website, hidemymugshot.com. Haenel said he has helped about 25 clients do that in the last two months. He said he doesn’t know anything about the $19.90 removal script, and declined to describe how he gets the mug shots removed.
Now $399 poorer, Cabibi said he feels like he’s been played.
He said his arrest came during a lapse in judgment, when he drove home intoxicated from a Florida bar after watching college football in 2007. His blood-alcohol was almost double the legal limit. He pleaded no contest, paid a fine and did six months’ probation. The Adobe applications administrator thought his past was behind him.
“You know, I did make a mistake back then,” he said. “There’s a difference between having it available on the county jail website … then to have it return on the first page in Google when you google your name. It seems like … extortion to me.”