January 1, 2014, was supposed to be a brand-new day for the mugshot industry in Oregon. That's because legislators had crafted a bill that would require mugshot websites to remove images of people who had been arrested, but who had later been exonerated, and those innocent people wouldn't be required to pay a bill for that removal. The law went into effect on January 1.
This legislative change came on the heels of a remarkable piece about mugshots in the New York Times, printed in October of 2013, which I optimistically predicted would change everything about the mugshot industry in this country.
Turns out, little has changed in Oregon as a result of this law, due to a basic misunderstanding on the part of people who could provide needed help. And that NYT piece? It apparently wasn't as devastating as I thought it might be.
Here's what's going on.
Trouble in Oregon
The Oregon mugshot law puts the burden on the person who has been targeted by a mugshot website. In essence, people who show up on these sites are required to provide proof that they were exonerated, and they're also required to demonstrate that their continued presence on the site is in direct violation of Oregon's laws. This means, in most cases, that Oregonians need to hire lawyers in order to take advantage of the law. These are the professionals who can track down who owns the sites, and they can demand damages if the owners of the sites don't comply.
Lawsuits like this have the proven ability to get a mugshot website to comply with the law. For example, a suit just like this in Toledo forced two major mugshot websites to look at their practices and come to a new understanding about what they would, and would not, publish. Lawyers did the work, but the owners of the mugshot sites were certainly contacted and reminded about the lawsuits by their legal teams, and they took action when they lost. That's how the system works.
But, a lawyer quoted in a baffling piece produced by the local Oregon NPR station suggests that the owners of mugshot websites are often difficult to find, and that the sites are often owned by overseas companies that aren't really accustomed to following local laws.
Now, I'm no lawyer, so I can't really comment on the "winability" of a mugshot case in Oregon. But it seems at least somewhat clear to me that not all mugshot websites are operated overseas, and that not all operators are immune to the laws. If that were the case, the Toledo lawsuit would have had a very different outcome. Similarly, if the owners of these sites were impossible to reach, articles that quote spokespeople of the sites (like this one) would be impossible to write, and that's clearly not the case.
However, if this is the assumption that Oregon lawyers make, it's quite possible that the Oregon law will fail. People will look for lawyers, they'll be told that the cases can't be won, and they'll give up. It's sad, but that seems to be my prediction for the Oregon law at the moment.
Failed Reporting Impact
If the Oregon law has no teeth, either because of the way the law is written or because lawyers are unwilling to enforce the information contained within that law, it's bad news for people who are targeted in Oregon, especially because the NYT piece that was supposed to have such an impact seems to have done very little long-term damage.
For example, credit card company representatives that were approached by the reporter for this NYT piece suggested that they'd break their ties with mugshot websites, effectively cutting them off from the revenue they need to stay in business. Unfortunately, according to a followup NYT piece, the sites seem to be "adapting" to the new model. The owners of the sites are reluctant to explain how they're continuing to process payments (and there's that pesky idea that they can be contacted by reporters, rather than working as a phantom overseas entity, but I digress), but many of them are still making money.
Similarly, mugshots are still remarkably easy to find on the Internet. Consider this: Just last week, a man who ran a Google search for his name found his own mugshot staring right back at him. If mugshots were removed from Google altogether, this guy wouldn't have found his photo at all. Granted, he found his photo on a law enforcement site, but still. If mugshots were verboten, he would have a clean search. Clearly, that's not the case.
Some techies have done a little digging to determine why some mugshot sites are even moving up in Google search results (and you can read more about that here; fascinating stuff). But the shorthand is that moving around an algorithm change is remarkably easy. With a few minutes of time and enough determination, almost anyone can do it.
At the moment, the best way to remove a mugshot, whether you're in Oregon or elsewhere, is to work with a reputable reputation management company, like ours. We know how to fight back and win, and we don't wait around for some magical day in which these sites will just disappear. We work. Tap us, and you'll see for yourself.