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You are not Gary Busey or Son of Sam, but your mugshot is still on the internet.
October 8, 2012 4:38 PM   Subscribe

How people profit from your online mugshot and ruin your life forever. A Gizmodo article, and a recent piece in Wired magazine, on how mugshots-as-entertainment have turned minor incidents into persistent embarrassments, and the cottage (extortion) industry that has sprung up in response.
posted by availablelight (122 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's kind of funny, but I have a slightly unusual first name, and a fairly common last name, and if I Google my name, my LinkedIn and Quora profiles show up, as does my Twitter profile and my personal website. However, over the past six months or so, a mugshot of a completely different person with the same name has slowly crept up onto the front page of search, and is the first image result for my name.

He is of different ethnicity than I am (most or all of the other results for my rare first name on Facebook, for example, are African Americans), so it doesn't make any difference to me, but oh the shame that guy must be going through.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2012


I like to think of them as an artistic genre: "involuntary portraiture".
posted by Egg Shen at 4:47 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


He is of different ethnicity than I am (most or all of the other results for my rare first name on Facebook, for example, are African Americans), so it doesn't make any difference to me

...until you have to apply for something sight unseen, I suppose.
posted by availablelight at 4:49 PM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wow. Florida is doing open government wrong. Really wrong.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:51 PM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


I do feel bad for the people who end up in these databases but aren't convicted of anything. They're paying for someone else's mistake.

But in the end this is a problem that will (probably) be solved socially. Eventually every young adult will have done something embarrassing that ends up on the internet, forever. When everyone has had their 15 minutes of infamy no one will care about your drunken mugshot.
posted by sbutler at 4:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


When everyone has had their 15 minutes of infamy

This argument strikes me as similar to "everyone in government will have experimented with drugs and they will suddenly be legal". So maybe it won't work.
posted by poe at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2012 [29 favorites]


A 16-year-old girl at my niece's school in Florida committed suicide last month. At the time of her death the first Google result for her name was her mugshot from an arrest over summer vacation. Given how cruel kids that age can be, I have to think that it was a contributing cause.
posted by Knappster at 5:03 PM on October 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


If photos are released before charges are laid, then this seems unfair. And these records allow anyone, with good or bad intensions to access them. However, I find it hard to sympathise with a statement like this:

"they've been white, they've been well-educated, their crimes have been minor, and they've been terrified"...
posted by greenhornet at 5:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


When everyone has had their 15 minutes of infamy no one will care about your drunken mugshot.

I don't know, it seems like America is perfectly happy to maintain an enormous underclass of people who are permanently unemployable for some reason or another. Why is this different?
posted by pullayup at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2012 [45 favorites]


I'm still thinking about this statement in the article : "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...."

I understand that, in some cases, some sympathy is warranted, the first case they cited certainly seems just wrong....... But I'm having a hard time with the article based on the statement that driving at twice the legal limit is a "mistake".
posted by HuronBob at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


However, I find it hard to sympathise with a statement like this:

The point is that the social punishment is worse than the actual punishment for the crime. Is it that you don't find white and or well-educated people worthy of any sympathy?
posted by basicchannel at 5:12 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I popped into a 7-11 the other day for a bottle of water and saw the check-out was lined with all these MUGSHOTS magazines. I knew some shady people were just publishing free data, but man, what a trainwreck.
posted by mathowie at 5:15 PM on October 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


HuronBob: “I understand that, in some cases, some sympathy is warranted, the first case they cited certainly seems just wrong....... But I'm having a hard time with the article based on the statement that driving at twice the legal limit is a ‘mistake’.”

I don't think any sympathy is "warranted" for anybody. Sympathy is an emotion one person feels about another; there is no grand catalog of sympathy wherein each person's sympathetic score is tallied. I sympathize with all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons; everybody does. I don't think it means much, though.

But sympathy has nothing to do with justice. It may be justice for every individual who's ever been convicted of a crime, from shoplifting on down, to choose between an eternity of public shaming or an extortionary fine as a sort of add-on punishment in addition to whatever punishment they've already served at the hands of the state. However, that is not how our government works. People are not supposed to be punished twice for the same crime, and they are not supposed to be punished through public shaming. So I think this deserves some hand-wringing, no matter where our sympathies lie.
posted by koeselitz at 5:20 PM on October 8, 2012 [21 favorites]


basicchannel: "However, I find it hard to sympathise with a statement like this:

The point is that the social punishment is worse than the actual punishment for the crime. Is it that you don't find white and or well-educated people worthy of any sympathy?
"

It's that the author assumes non-white and poor people don't deserve the sympathy, apparently, otherwise why the fuck even bring up their goddamned race and economic status?
posted by symbioid at 5:21 PM on October 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


A couple of years ago one of those local-arrest-mug-shot newspapers started showing up at convenience stores all over Raleigh for $1, with a new issue every week or so. I remember thinking it was fucking disgusting to profit like that on someone else's non-conviction pain.

I was even more disgusted to learn that the "respectable" Raleigh daily, the News & Observer, now does the same thing every day. The worst part is that unlike the shitty $1 rag you buy at the crackmart, the mainstream daily newspaper can't even be bothered to remind you these people have only been arrested, not convicted, and you shouldn't assume they're guilty blah blah blah; the paper's web operation can't even be bothered to include that tiny bit of mitigation as they cash in. Total asshole move.
posted by mediareport at 5:23 PM on October 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


It seems like there's a pretty easy fix to this, right? Just pass a federal law making it illegal for anyone to profit from the publishing of mug shots.
posted by koeselitz at 5:27 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


This just kills me. I googled the name of an old friend a few weeks ago (just bein' nosy on the internet, I was) and the first link that popped up was his mugshot. First thing. He'd been arrested for a DUI and had drug paraphernalia on him.

I clicked on the "remove this picture" link and it said, "are you this person, or can you speak for this person?"
Sure, I thought. I'm not really in touch with him anymore but I don't want him to have his picture up like this.
"Awesome!" said the website. "Pay us $80 and we'll take it down."

Okay, so he made a mistake. He was a moron and got caught and had his mugshot taken and I don't know if he was convicted or not. But he's got kids, teenage kids and I KNOW that they're going to find it. Or worse, their friends are. And he works in an industry that lays him off every once in a while when work slows down. He looks for in-between positions to keep food on the table. Are those prospective employers going to google him? Of course they are. Will having the first hit be a mugshot make a difference in whether or not they hire him? Who knows? Probably.

I guess what I'm saying is that we've all done stupid shit. Some stupider than others. I feel so bad for him and people like him, who make dumb mistakes and have it plastered all over the internet, continuing to wreak havoc on their lives long after they had paid their fines and done their time. "Continued infamy on the internet" is a new, additional sentence that has appeared out of nowhere for ordinary folks who made dumb mistakes, and I just hate it.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:28 PM on October 8, 2012 [20 favorites]


It seems like there's a pretty easy fix to this, right? Just pass a federal law making it illegal for anyone to profit from the publishing of mug shots.

The government agencies in question (probably the county sheriff's departments) could just seek to assert their copyright over the pictures. They just don't care, I imagine.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:35 PM on October 8, 2012


I would have thought that the solution would be to flood the web with false and decoy information: come up with a Photoshop / GIMP / Instagram filter that turns a normal portrait photo into a mugshot, complete with meth scars, and set up a bot that churns through Facebook and Flickr and everywhere else doing facial recognition, generating fake mugshots, and uploading them; all the while taking existing mugshots and reposting them with a spectrum of fake criminal charges from international narcoterrorism to arrests at a protest against the clubbing of baby seals.
posted by XMLicious at 5:41 PM on October 8, 2012 [26 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: “The government agencies in question (probably the county sheriff's departments) could just seek to assert their copyright over the pictures. They just don't care, I imagine.”

That's not true, is it? Government agencies aren't allowed to have copyrights; they are public agencies, and their products are public property. As far as I know, this is in the constitution. My father works for the USDA through the Forest Service; he's published some scientific papers, but he is flatly not allowed to make money off of them, because they are public property.

I mean, these companies are getting mugshots because those mugshots are a matter of public record; and I think it's a great and important thing even that arrest records are public. That's how it ought to be.

I just don't think anybody should be allowed to make money off of this; and I think it's particularly execrable that there's a whole industry that's cropped up to do this.
posted by koeselitz at 5:49 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Copyrighting them could be effective, but as the author pointed out, it'd be probably be difficult to get legislators to sign on with protecting the previously arrested. For some reason I imagine a cut-off line for a compromise; convictions for X and above or something.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:51 PM on October 8, 2012


DC is screwed up in MANY ways, but I learned about the rules on mugshots in DC about a month ago and thought they were...fantastic.
(Yes, Florida is crazy, but we probably think they're crazier than they actually are-at least that every state is as crazy-because of their Sunshine laws. We know all about Casey whatever her name is and could watch the footage of the Hulk's kid on the phone from jail because those Sunshine Laws mandate public release of any evidence that the prosecutor provides to the defense. Discovery has a whole new meaning.)
posted by atomicstone at 5:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: “Copyrighting them could be effective...”

Not to niggle, and I agree with your larger point, but copyrighting would be wholly illegal, because "Copyright protection... is not available for any work of the United States Government."
posted by koeselitz at 5:57 PM on October 8, 2012


Not to niggle, and I agree with your larger point, but copyrighting would be wholly illegal, because "Copyright protection... is not available for any work of the United States Government."

County Sheriffs are not part of the US Government. Is there an applicable state law for (e.g.) Florida?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:59 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't think anybody should be allowed to make money off of this

Interesting to think of how legislating that might work. Maybe it could be like NASA images, which you can use for commercial purposes as long as you don't claim copyright or use images of "a recognizable person."
posted by mediareport at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't think anybody should be allowed to make money off of this.

Interesting to think of how legislating that might work.


It's actually pretty easy. A lot of governments release information under a licence that allows reuse, except commercial reuse, like the Creative Commons Attribution (Non-Commercial) licence.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:06 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


His thoughts were red thoughts: “County Sheriffs are not part of the US Government. Is there an applicable state law for (e.g.) Florida?”

Wow – I'd never thought of that. I feel like it's terrible for state and local governments to claim copyright, and I'm against it on principle, but it turns out you're right. Notably (since this story is about Florida) "the Florida Constitution require most works produced by the Government of Florida and any county, district, authority, or municipal officer, department, division, board, bureau, commission, or other separate unit of government created or established by law be considered to be in the public domain."
posted by koeselitz at 6:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US government can copyright it's own works, but it has to do so by explicit legislation. All the photos taken by the astronauts are public domain, but the NASA logos are fully protected by copyright ( and can be used in non-infringing ways - education, parody, etc.)
posted by eriko at 6:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


this is sick.
posted by Enki at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2012


I can't help but think this is entirely related to the fact that America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, where "prison rape" is a common joke, where "three strikes and you're out" is an accepted practice, where corporations run prisons for profit, and where it's heartily accepted that ex-cons can't vote any more for the rest of their lives. This is a country where sex offenders can't find a place to live. Where "Cops" is a source of entertainment.

There is a market for these mug shots. And it's us.
posted by monospace at 6:14 PM on October 8, 2012 [38 favorites]


County Sheriffs are not part of the US Government.

This is incorrect. State and local governments are part of the US government. Small parts, but parts. Judgements like this which refer to "the US government" refer to all parts of it, no matter how regional or minor.
posted by localroger at 6:17 PM on October 8, 2012


Yes, but it appears that copyright law doesn't apply to the state and local governments – HTART is right about that.
posted by koeselitz at 6:19 PM on October 8, 2012


NASA logos are fully protected by copyright

I'd have to look it up but I think they are actually protected by trademark, which is an entirely different thing from copyright. The government does reserve for itself the right to protect trademarks such as the Presidential seal.
posted by localroger at 6:20 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Nassau County, NY, district attorney started doing a public display--helped by the way too eager local media--of people arrested on charges of DWI. Comments about the arrested were absolutely godawful. However, after the second instance of a threat to sue because the individuals were actually diabetic and not DWI, I believe the DA has stopped this crap.
posted by etaoin at 6:21 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


koeselitz, your meaning is unclear. I would say that copyright law does not apply to state and local governments because, being part of the US government, they cannot copyright their work products. That doesn't seem to be what you are implying though.
posted by localroger at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2012


earlier koeselitz: Wow – I'd never thought of that. I feel like it's terrible for state and local governments to claim copyright, and I'm against it on principle, but it turns out you're right. Notably (since this story is about Florida) "the Florida Constitution require most works produced by the Government of Florida and any county, district, authority, or municipal officer, department, division, board, bureau, commission, or other separate unit of government created or established by law be considered to be in the public domain."

I think you are misunderstanding this. The quote you cite is actually preventing Florida from claiming copyright -- "in the public domain" means there is no copyright. And if Florida didn't have this in their Constitution, it would still be the case because of Federal law, but having it in their Constitution makes it easier to bring low-level bureaucratic entities in line.
posted by localroger at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2012


However, after the second instance of a threat to sue because the individuals were actually diabetic and not DWI, I believe the DA has stopped this crap.

It's very difficult to win a defamation of character suit in the US but this is probably dangerously close to the line, when you combine private individual, reckless disregard for the truth, and malevolent intent.
posted by localroger at 6:38 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The American justice system is so cruel, vindictive and un-Christian it should be a national disgrace. Fat chance.
posted by Flashman at 6:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm guilty of browsing these from time to time (as with this post). Even babies are mesmerized by browsing images of human faces, and add a guilty dose of schadenfreude or "thank god that's not me" and the depersonalizing effect of the internet/distance and suddenly you've got something that can be crack like. I don't think I have the stomach to do it anymore after reading through these, and I pray to god I never end up in a position (like diabetics who look like drunk drivers) to have this happen to me.
posted by availablelight at 6:54 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is incorrect. State and local governments are part of the US government. Small parts, but parts. Judgements like this which refer to "the US government" refer to all parts of it, no matter how regional or minor.
Maybe in some philosophical sense, but not in any technical, legal sense. The federal government doesn't have any direct, legal control over state governments other then preventing them from violating federal law. Local law enforcement doesn't need to enforce federal law (which is why you can have medical marijuana laws, among other things).

Obviously there are lots of ways that the federal government can influence state governments, most obviously massive amounts of funding with strings attached.

Either way, a law that applies to the federal government (i.e. no copyrights) may not apply to state governments.

If you look at what DC does, it's not that they prevent people from using mugshots by claiming copyright law, it's that they keep them secret before conviction.

I'm not really sure there is anything realistic you can do about mug shots being released into the public domain. The best way to deal with this is to put a bunch of stuff up online under your name so that anything 'bad' doesn't show up until the next several pages on google.
posted by delmoi at 6:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


localroger: “koeselitz, your meaning is unclear. I would say that copyright law does not apply to state and local governments because, being part of the US government, they cannot copyright their work products. That doesn't seem to be what you are implying though.”

Sorry, my link got borked earlier. There's a handy Wikipedia article about it. It claims, citing the US Copyright Office: "The term only applies to the work of the federal government, including the governments of 'non-organized territorial areas' under the jurisdiction of the U.S Government, but not state or local governments." Even more helpfully, they have a page on the copyright status of work by state governments, with several states' policies on copyrighting their works listed. Florida is the one I quoted.

The last link there claims: "Many state and local governments copyright their works."
posted by koeselitz at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


[another previously on Metafilter I missed]
posted by availablelight at 7:01 PM on October 8, 2012


OK, that clears that up. Thanks for the correction.
posted by localroger at 7:02 PM on October 8, 2012


It's worth noting that the Florida constitution actually only provides an enforceable right of access to government information.

Article 1, section 24:
a) Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf, except with respect to records exempted pursuant to this section or specifically made confidential by this Constitution. This section specifically includes the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government and each agency or department created thereunder; counties, municipalities, and districts; and each constitutional officer, board, and commission, or entity created pursuant to law or this Constitution.
This is a standard open government clause. There's nothing in the constitution to prevent Florida government agencies from enforcing copyright, if they want. The Florida government could also exempt mugshots from that provision, if they wanted to (but that would be a bit of work).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:05 PM on October 8, 2012


koeselitz: "Government agencies aren't allowed to have copyrights"

Work done by a federal employee is public domain. State and local governments are perfectly free to assert their copyright interest in data they produce, subject to open records laws, of course. At least in my state, the open records law requires that police departments release mugshots and just about everything else.
posted by wierdo at 7:11 PM on October 8, 2012


Canadian goverments are able to copyright stuff. As horrible as these mugshots are for the people featured a lack of federal copyright is a much bigger win than preventing these images being circulated would be.
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an interest in this (writing a conference paper about "mugshot magazines" as we speak) and I have a pretty good deal of thinking about it under my belt.

These things represent a disgusting subset of porn to me. Just like the Faces of Meth project, this shit exists to simultaneously sexualize and dehumanize people in bad situations. It's awful, and the fact that people profit from it is just horrid.

I have daydreams of getting a new mugshot taken when I am booked for stealing these rags from a gas station one day.
posted by broadway bill at 7:28 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Canadian goverments are able to copyright stuff. As horrible as these mugshots are for the people featured a lack of federal copyright is a much bigger win than preventing these images being circulated would be.

It's not a zero sum game. You can have a default position of making government information open and accessible (including online publication), while allowing the flexibility to not publish information where there is a clear public interest in not doing so.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:31 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Adding a captcha and only displaying one image/name at a time might make these sites un-economic. Based on how popular the sites are, it may take legislation to get it implemented.
posted by anon4now at 7:45 PM on October 8, 2012


This is a standard open government clause. There's nothing in the constitution to prevent Florida government agencies from enforcing copyright, if they want. The Florida government could also exempt mugshots from that provision, if they wanted to (but that would be a bit of work).

IAAL licensed to practice in Florida. What you are citing is our public records clause. (we also have Chapter 119). "Government in the sunshine" is very expansive here. Recently, even government employees text messages were deemed to be public records if concerning government matters. It also puts all state government works in the public domain unless the legislature carves out an exception, and those exceptions have sunset provisions. The easiest way to deal with this would be to amend the constitution, which is ridiculously easy in Florida. However, I don't see any such ballot proposition having much voter appeal. (liberals should bear in mind comment threads like this one when wondering why they are accused of sympathizing with criminals)

The concern with public records extends to court filings. Two sides of a lawsuit cannot simply agree to file something under seal. Rather, the court needs to make a determination whether or not the need to seal outweighs the public interest. This change was made to our rules of judicial administration a few years ago because high profile people in south Florida were found to have entire court cases such as divorces where nearly every filing was under seal.

To that point, regardless of the mugshots, court records remain public. Any search of a court's online docket or a general public records search would reveal such records. Whether or not I found out about your DUI (which is *not* a non-violent "mistake") from seeing your mugshot or reading a court's docket, the result is the same.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:47 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be very interested in reading your paper, broadway bill.

"I can't help but think this is entirely related to the fact that America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, where "prison rape" is a common joke, where "three strikes and you're out" is an accepted practice, where corporations run prisons for profit, and where it's heartily accepted that ex-cons can't vote any more for the rest of their lives. "

Absolutely. And it's sick and twisted that people will kick the most powerless (I often work with the incarcerated, I can't think of many populations here in the U.S. with less power) when they're down by exploiting these images, taken at what's probably one of the arrestee's lowest moments in their lives. But in order to keep this system going it's important to maintain that this is a population that's still safe for "nice" people to mock and gawk at, and it's acceptable to exploit their faces for entertainment. The fact our prison (and, hah, justice) system is allowed to be as large (and growing) as it is depends on this sort of callous depersonalization of the human beings caught up in it.

Not to mention it serves as yet another chilling effect on protest, civil disobedience and direct action for activists
posted by stagewhisper at 7:49 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have an interest in this (writing a conference paper about "mugshot magazines" as we speak) and I have a pretty good deal of thinking about it under my belt.

Broadway bill, I'd love to hear more.
posted by availablelight at 7:55 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tanizaki: "Whether or not I found out about your DUI (which is *not* a non-violent "mistake") from seeing your mugshot or reading a court's docket, the result is the same."

I think you're missing the point, which is that some people feel that such records should not be published until the individual is convicted. That's not "sympathizing with criminals" that's "sympathizing with people charged with but not convicted of a crime."

As opposed to what the Orange County Sheriff's office has been doing for at least a decade now, which is publishing mugshots of those who have merely been arrested for prostitution or solicitation and not waiting until guilt is established.
posted by wierdo at 7:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whether or not I found out about your DUI (which is *not* a non-violent "mistake")

You forgot the part where you found about my DUI accusation which turned out to be because of my diabetic medical condition. Only you had already slandered me to hell and back, didn't you?
posted by localroger at 7:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


This change was made to our rules of judicial administration a few years ago because high profile people in south Florida were found to have entire court cases such as divorces where nearly every filing was under seal.

While it's a problem if high-profile people get special treatment, I fail to see a serious problem if salacious details in divorce cases are not publicly splashed to the world--I thought the whole Jack and Jeri Ryan case in 2004 was completely appalling.
posted by dsfan at 7:57 PM on October 8, 2012


This is a country where sex offenders can't find a place to live.

Heaven forfend. If you need to find a new roommate, you don't need Craigslist.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2012


To expand on Weirdo's point, I personally have zero confidence that anyone who looks up someone's criminal record only to find they were only charged, not convicted, of a crime, will have the ability to genuinely refrain from casting judgment on that person.
posted by steamynachos at 8:06 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


You forgot the part where you found about my DUI accusation which turned out to be because of my diabetic medical condition. Only you had already slandered me to hell and back, didn't you?

I didn't forget where you fumbled with "state and local governments are part of the US government", and you are continuing your streak with a misunderstanding of slander.

I think you're missing the point, which is that some people feel that such records should not be published until the individual is convicted.

How quaint for "some people". I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction. And, why does it suddenly become acceptable to publish after conviction? Don't we have to wait for the appeals to run out, and aren't the prisons brimming with people convicted of crimes they didn't commit? Perhaps we should wait until we know their guilt with metaphysical certitude.

I, for one, am glad to have found a class of government documents that MeFi thinks Wikileaks shouldn't release.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:21 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tanizaki: "How quaint for "some people". I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction. And, why does it suddenly become acceptable to publish after conviction?"

That's quite the attitude you've got there. Is something bothering you?

How is it that we managed to get along fine without mugshots being posted on the Internet for over 200 years if it is so important to having a public trial? What a travesty that newspapers haven't been doing that since time immemorial. It is clearly the root of all the troubles with our criminal justice system; just a few more years and a few more mugshots and we'll have this problem licked!
posted by wierdo at 8:28 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tanizaki: "I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction"

I agree with this sentence, but I think that creating a sub-economy where people can charge an arrestee to remove their photo is bad.
posted by rebent at 8:32 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whether or not I found out about your DUI (which is *not* a non-violent "mistake") from seeing your mugshot or reading a court's docket, the result is the same.

Surely you're bright enough to know the difference between a name and a mugshot? And surely you understand the difference between a name and mugshot being published on an easily accessible website and a name on a court docket?

Surely you understand that the audience for a court docket and the audience for a newspaper insert are distinct, rendering your imaginary reader (who reads either the docket or the newspaper without prejudice for either source) rather beside the point.

Surely you understand that publicizing (as opposed to failing to conceal) a person's name and image when doing so is not necessary to law enforcement or criminal justice could very easily be considered a punishment, and a punishment meted out without requisite due process.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:39 PM on October 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


availablelight and stagewhisper:

I'll make myself a note to share some of it here once it's a bit more polished.
posted by broadway bill at 8:40 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I, for one, am glad to have found a class of government documents that MeFi thinks Wikileaks shouldn't release.

The collective Metafilter, or the mass quantity Metafilter, like butter? Either way, I don't think you'd have a strong consensus that all of the Wikileaks documents should have been released raw.

Hell, Wikileaks and Assange didn't think so, either!

It was a journalist entrusted with the documents who moronically released the encryption key for the entire bundle. Until then, it was controlled release following journalistic review, and I believe the journalists asked the US government for help with redactions of sensitive information.
posted by zippy at 8:43 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is a link to the media advertising kit for the online mugshots section of the Tampa Bay Times which is a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper. They started this section back in 2009 and it covers many different counties and has received upwards of 100K hits in a day. As for the mugshot rags that are sold on the counters of the C-Stores. My understanding, based on a few inquires to clerks is that most folks who buy them use them as "bragging rights" for their friends, brothers, sisters, themselves etc. something I found hard to believe until a young man pointed out his friend to me in one, and seemed proud and excited to do so. Ah lovely Saint Petersburg, FL. we are no longer just God's waiting room.
posted by HappyHippo at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


And, why does it suddenly become acceptable to publish after conviction? Don't we have to wait for the appeals to run out, and aren't the prisons brimming with people convicted of crimes they didn't commit? Perhaps we should wait until we know their guilt with metaphysical certitude.

You're totally right, let's start punishing people the second they get arrested; we'll never really know if they're guilty anyway and surely there is no point to a jury trial or any other kind of due process when we could just like, look at them and decide that they're gross and deserve punishment
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


(liberals should bear in mind comment threads like this one when wondering why they are accused of sympathizing with criminals)

Tanizaki, what does this mean?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:17 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction.

Because publishing a mugshot of someone who was merely arrested has nothing to do with whether the public can attend a trial, or whether the trial is open to the media, or whether transcripts of the trial proceedings are published.

In Australia we have something called the spent convictions scheme. Certain kinds of minor convictions get scrubbed from your record after a specific amount of time, so you, having paid your debt to society, can move on with your life. I've always thought it was a decent idea, if not especially well implemented.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:31 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another pretty scary example--assuming it's accurate--from the comment section of the Gizmodo article:

This happened to my friend in Florida. There was some sort of severe car rental mix-up where the wrong car was reported stolen when it should not have been. She was pulled over for some traffic violation and then unexpectedly arrested for grand theft auto. The case was thrown out immediately, but her mug shot is out there. I am talking like the third item that comes up when you google your name. She told me that the site required 800$ to remove it. I think she even paid it but its still was there. The unfortunate thing is that this picture is the most unflattering picture of her. She is a well put together individual, but she looks just horrible in this picture. If I did not know her, and say interviewed her for a job position and googled her afterwards, I would be completely dubious of any defense on her part.
posted by availablelight at 9:42 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


(liberals should bear in mind comment threads like this one when wondering why they are accused of sympathizing with criminals)

Right, because once someone has even been accused of a crime, no matter how small, then any subsequent humiliation or degradation is completely justified forever, whether or not they are even convicted, and anyone questioning this idea must be one of those despised, effete "liberals" so many Americans hate so very deeply.

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." Source.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 PM on October 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


"everyone in government will have experimented with drugs and they will suddenly be legal"
nah, just weed
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:51 PM on October 8, 2012


How quaint for "some people". I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction. And, why does it suddenly become acceptable to publish after conviction? Don't we have to wait for the appeals to run out, and aren't the prisons brimming with people convicted of crimes they didn't commit? Perhaps we should wait until we know their guilt with metaphysical certitude.

Several countries (many countries?) forbid the publishing of facial photos or last names of people until they've been convicted, unless the person in question is on the run and a danger to society. They still manage to hold fair, public trials without punishing the accused in advance.
posted by cmonkey at 9:54 PM on October 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Just like the Faces of Meth project, this shit exists to simultaneously sexualize

...what
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:01 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Accused criminals in Japan usually have their faces blurred when shown on the news. Considering the utter hell that is life for anyone accused of a crime here (you can be held for up to 23 days before even being charged with a crime, just for starters), it's pretty damn sad to see that, in this at least, America is so, so much more screwed up. The more I read about things, the more I hear about chance encounters with cops in the States, the more paranoid I get when I do visit.

It's one thing to be young and dumb and have pictures of yourself doing objectionable or illegal things online (and don't get me wrong, it's still fucked), it's another entirely to have a mug shot of yourself online, accessible by anyone, for something you weren't convicted of. Not. Convicted. Jesus, what the hell happened to the U.S.? Was it always this pyschopathic, and I hadn't noticed, or is this more of a recent development?
posted by Ghidorah at 10:18 PM on October 8, 2012


How is "Pay us $$ to remove the picture" not extortion? Extortion doesn't require that the information be private or not legal for public release; you can have information that you can make public completely legally, but the second you ask for money to avoid doing so, it's a felony. How is this different? Here's one hint; having one person hold the information and someone else asking for money IS NOT DIFFERENT.

Take the people running the websites, and arrest them. Convict them, or not, who cares? See how they like it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:41 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, keep this in mind; having a public mugshot out there completely undermines your ability to negotiate wages, even if you ever get a job. A totally meaningless and mistaken arrest could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:43 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: "and they are not supposed to be punished through public shaming."

Tell that to my local newspaper that prints the arrests daily. A couple of my cousins have been arrested and each time my nosy dad had to call up and ask what happened. They don't print mugshots but names are enough.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:12 PM on October 8, 2012


IndigoRain: "Tell that to my local newspaper that prints the arrests daily."

The ones where I've lived just print "a 28 year old Tulsa man" or whatever in the arrest reports. The conviction reports, on the other hand, are full disclosure, occasionally including mug shots for the more "interesting" crimes. Of course, anybody can go onto the state court system's website and easily match up the "28 year old Tulsa man." The only thing that gets redacted there is the person's SSN, driver's license number, and the like. If you want that sort of info, you have to listen to the police scanner.
posted by wierdo at 12:03 AM on October 9, 2012


A recent study in a medical journal (December 2011) found that 41% of young American adults had been arrested at least once before their 23rd birthday. It seems like at this rate arrests without convictions (including mugshots) are embarrassing but meaningless. The real problem is the police state and privacy concerns. Many adults I know have a misdemeanor or two on their records, or dismissed charges with a night spent in jail -- particularly since the Occupy movement. That's still a staggering percentage to me. Makes this industry all the more seedy.
posted by sweltering at 12:53 AM on October 9, 2012


Our justice system is pretty much predicated on the fact that as soon as you're found guilty (or even accused) of a crime, you are subhuman and have ruined your life. The notion of paying your debt and starting over is only for inspirational movies. We don't want people who have served time holding jobs, voting, living in our neighborhoods, and so forth. People still think it's funny to joke about prison rape.

But, as folks have pointed out, this was all okay as long as it was only happening to black people and "white trash". Now that decent white people are finding their brushes with the law stay with them forever, it's suddenly an outrage and not fair and something must be done.

The bad news is, this is all an industry turning a big profit, so good luck shutting it down. But the good news is, this is exactly the crime-as-entertainment, tough-on-crime, information-wants-to-be-free, People-of-Wal-Mart, etewaf culture you've been supporting and championing for so long.
posted by Legomancer at 5:04 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me: You forgot the part where you found about my DUI accusation which turned out to be because of my diabetic medical condition. Only you had already slandered me to hell and back, didn't you?

Tanizaki: I didn't forget where you fumbled with "state and local governments are part of the US government", and you are continuing your streak with a misunderstanding of slander.

So you want to take on the point about diabetics being mistaken for drunks (PS I am not a lawyer, but I am pre-diabetic) and this is the best you can do?
posted by localroger at 5:35 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


this is exactly the crime-as-entertainment, tough-on-crime, information-wants-to-be-free, People-of-Wal-Mart, etewaf culture

a couple of these don't seem to belong
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:42 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good excuse to re-post the pic of the man who is far too cool to be ruined by a widely-circulated mugshot. Of course, not everyone is Bowie. To put it mildly.
posted by Decani at 5:56 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


a couple of these don't seem to belong

Which ones? Because they all seem apt to me.
posted by Legomancer at 6:36 AM on October 9, 2012


Two dumb questions from a police/justice neophyte:

1) What purpose does a mug shot serve? Most of these people have photo ID I'll assume, so we aren't dealing with a bunch of Jane and John Doe's here. How does the mug shot serve some function internally in the police/justice system?

2) Supposing they are useful, what reason would there be to make them public? Since these are innocent people (not yet convicted by a court for their crimes) it makes no sense to have a public record about it.

It seems like we could fix the two things above and there would be no parasitic business opportunity to publish or suppress the photos.
posted by dgran at 7:04 AM on October 9, 2012


I guess some spam list sold my email address to this shady-ass website that then notified me I was that they were going to post my name up as a "potential sexual offender", which I guess is a category everyone who is not definitely a sexual offender would fall under. I just have to pay 100$ if I want to remove my name, says the 'law firm' conveniently affiliated with and advertising on the site itself.
posted by MangyCarface at 7:58 AM on October 9, 2012


I spend x number of pro bono hours each month helping people get their arrest records sealed or expunged. A large number of these people are in their early 20's, close to completing nursing school, with an arrest from age 17-19 on their record. Most of these people were merely arrested, never even tried--much less convicted. (A lot of the arrests are for fighting in public. Usually girls screaming at each other and pulling one another's hair over some asshole guy at a club. Some are public intoxication--I've yet to see a DUI, but they're not expungeable. A very few are shoplifting or drugs. Anyway. . . ) They all need their arrests expunged because they want to get licensed as nurses, get jobs, keep on with their lives. It's a easy procedure for them, for the most part, like I said, most of them were merely arrested. The cases were nolle prosequi or they had some sort of sentence of supervision, which was satisfactorily completed. They go about their lives; we get the record expunged; the rehabilitative purpose of the justice system for a brief shining moment is being served. I feel good--they feel relieved. Whoo!

And then they think to ask about whatever nongovernment database they know about. MugshotsOnline, WhoIsYourNannyReally, GossipAboutTotalStrangersWhoAren'tHurtingAnyone. Whatever.

And I have to tell them: the court order to expunge your record only affects police departments. Only government agencies will be required to forget you were ever arrested. You'll have no trouble getting licensed as a nurse because the schools only contact government agencies to verify that you have no record which would prevent you from being licensed. Anyone who does a google search or relies on a private detective for a background check may still find this. You will have court documents showing that this record no longer exists and that you may legally and with a clear conscience say you have no arrests or convictions on your record, but anyone who sees those documents is going to consider you a liar. Someone who is dissembling. Someone who is "really" an arrestee who just gets to say they aren't.

This turning arrests and mugshots into entertainment is a bad, bad, bad thing that inhibits the proper functioning of society. The wide dissemination and effortless reproduction of mugshots inhibits the fundamental principle of innocence in a just society. It harms people far more than merely embarrassing them with an unflattering photo and a salacious story of something awful they did once. It's wrong and bad and people should be morally opposed to it. That, alone, should be enough to stop it, but it's not, so we should criminalize it. Sure, an arrest is a public event, which may or may not have newsworthy value and there may or may not be social value to publicizing any given arrest. In the case of hilarious or pathetic mugshots and internet galleries of them, I've yet to hear an argument that convinces that there is either newsworthy or social value in disseminating them, public though they may be.

BTW: the mugshot serves the purpose of permanently affixing a Central Booking ID Number/ to a face. A mug shot also serves the purpose of giving the police clear pictures, taking in a uniform manner in a uniform setting, that can be used in investigating crimes in the future. Photocopying an ID results in a degraded image and has the disadvantage of not having the ID number which police assign to arrestees attached to it.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:05 AM on October 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


I wonder how "some people" think a public trial is going to take place if nothing is published until conviction. And, why does it suddenly become acceptable to publish after conviction?

Wow, a lawyer who seems not to know anything about other jurisdictions stemming from English common law.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:50 AM on October 9, 2012


Wow. Florida is doing open government wrong. Really wrong.

Yep. Requesting an absentee ballot online means you get spam from everybody whose name appears on said ballot.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:51 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you want to take on the point about diabetics being mistaken for drunks (PS I am not a lawyer, but I am pre-diabetic) and this is the best you can do?

Thus far, your best has not impressed. Where is the slander in your scenario? If a person has been arrested for DUI, it is not slander or libel to say that he was arrested because the statement is true. Similarly, mere display of the mugshot is not defamation of any sort.

In your world, where is the "slander" arising from the mugshot of a diabetic person who was arrested for DUI?
posted by Tanizaki at 11:44 AM on October 9, 2012


Surely you understand that publicizing (as opposed to failing to conceal) a person's name and image when doing so is not necessary to law enforcement or criminal justice could very easily be considered a punishment, and a punishment meted out without requisite due process.

Surely, your understanding of punishment is lacking. Punishment has a specific definition, and it does not include your embarrassment. Due process applies to deprivation of your life, liberty, or property, not your dignity.

And of course, due process is only a entitlement you have from the government. A publisher of a mugshot magazine cannot deprive anyone of due process or punish anyone.

Surely you understand.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2012


You're totally right, let's start punishing people the second they get arrested; we'll never really know if they're guilty anyway and surely there is no point to a jury trial or any other kind of due process when we could just like, look at them and decide that they're gross and deserve punishment

"Due process" and "punishment". You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2012


Good excuse to re-post the pic of the man who is far too cool to be ruined by a widely-circulated mugshot. Of course, not everyone is Bowie. To put it mildly.

That is just ridiculous. He's clearly perfect. How can anyone compete?
posted by sweetkid at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2012


What a weird thread.

Things can be legal (like publishing photos of mug shots) and still be not okay, distressing, wrong - or even a kind of punishment, though obviously not one handed down by the government. Is it somehow not punishment (for a crime one has not been convicted of) if you get fired, or your spouse leaves you, or your kid gets beat up in school, when your mug shot gets published? I mean, it's obviously not the legal definition of legal punishment, but words have different definitions and contexts. One can punish one's child for breaking curfew without calling in the cops and judges.
posted by rtha at 12:42 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the upthread comments I was mistaken about a formal legal situation. In the case of "slandered to hell and back" I am using it informally to describe the fact that one's reputation has been trashed. Please address that using whatever formal terminology you feel is more appropriate.
posted by localroger at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2012


In the case of "slandered to hell and back" I am using it informally to describe the fact that one's reputation has been trashed. Please address that using whatever formal terminology you feel is more appropriate.

Well, it's a word that has a meaning. Telling the truth about you is not "slandering you to hell and back". It is not slander at all.

I still don't understand the hypothetical you are describing of your reputation being trashed. You get arrested for DUI. That is a fact. If telling the truth about you harms your reputation, how is that the teller's fault? You want people to not be able to tell the truth about you? Is that what you want?
posted by Tanizaki at 1:52 PM on October 9, 2012


Sorry, are you just denying that someone's reputation can be harmed even if the information is truthful? Truth: Got arrested for DUI. Full truth: Not actually drunk or under the influence of anything, as blood tests show; charges dropped.

But people only know you got arrested for DUI (or, to raise the stakes, child molestation). It is the truth. And they will - many of them, perhaps your friends, perhaps your future employers - judge you just for that arrest, regardless of what the full truth is. I mean, if you got arrested for child molestation because you *look* like the actual child molester even though you haven't molested anybody, do you think your reputation wouldn't be harmed when your mug shot is published in one of these things?

Please note that I think these places do have the right to publish these photos, at least as the law(s) currently stand. But arguing that harm can't or doesn't come from that seems odd.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please note that I think these places do have the right to publish these photos, at least as the law(s) currently stand. But arguing that harm can't or doesn't come from that seems odd.

I have not argued that.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2012


I see that. And you don't address any of my other points. Which, you know, is fine. But it's odd to pick that out over everything else. But like I said above, this whole thread is weird.
posted by rtha at 2:22 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you are faced with a substantive argument and a dictionary quibble, and the dictionary quibble does not affect hte substantive argument but you choose to address the dictionary quibble and not the substantive argument, you are not arguing in good faith.

Yes, words have meanings. In fact many words have multiple meanings, including words that have lay and legal meanings. rtha stated my complaint without, hopefully, offending your refined sense of legal semantics and yet you still chose to evade the point. This suggests that you do not have a counter which a normal person would accept to that point.
posted by localroger at 3:35 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's the same narrow-defining that's being done with "punishment", among other things, too. Forest, trees, etc.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:48 PM on October 9, 2012


wierdo: " The ones where I've lived just print "a 28 year old Tulsa man" or whatever in the arrest reports. The conviction reports, on the other hand, are full disclosure, occasionally including mug shots for the more "interesting" crimes. Of course, anybody can go onto the state court system's website and easily match up the "28 year old Tulsa man." The only thing that gets redacted there is the person's SSN, driver's license number, and the like. If you want that sort of info, you have to listen to the police scanner."

Here they print name, age, and sometimes address. Here's today's listings. I think if they tried this in a bigger city it would take up 2/3 of the newspaper.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:16 PM on October 9, 2012


Things can be legal (like publishing photos of mug shots) and still be not okay, distressing, wrong

and how do you propose to make them stop without using force, assuming they don't give a shit that you consider it "wrong"

that's why arguments about how things are "legal but not okay" are irrelevant. the people doing them don't care about your feelings.

then, of course, when your laws are enacted, they're misused and exploited. and so on.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:01 PM on October 9, 2012


This, of course: You basically argue that there is no point having laws. All laws are enacted because people are doing things that are "legal but not okay" and people want to fix the "legal" part. Go back a couple of thousand years and murder was basically "legal but not okay." It took awhile to fix that.

And yes, those laws get misused and exploited, but the point is that hopefully we get better laws as the cycle repeats and ultimately a society where those few people who don't give a shit are pretty well constrained by rules that let us all agree to shut them down when they go over certain lines.

The point of this OP is that a loophole in a well-intentioned public disclosure law is being used to by exploitative individuals to profit from spreading misery for people who have legally done nothing wrong. If the courts see this as being in line with current law then this is the very thing that cries out for a new law. Yes, there are too many laws and crap like this is one of the reasons for that, but history has given us lots of examples of how the other path is even more miserable.

Incidentally, a bit of a derail but applicable in some ways: The obscene forfeiture laws which allow the government to steal your cash, car, or house even if you haven't been charged with a crime because it's the *property* which has been charged ("The US Govt vs. $30,000 cash") and property has no rights. Because it's not "punishment" if the government takes your cash away from you when it's your cash that is on the docket, not you. This obscenity has actually been upheld by the Supreme Court, probably in a bid to solve the energy crisis by hooking the spinning bodies of our Founding Fathers up to belts to run generators. So yeah, the government's definition of "punishment" and "due process" is definitely not what a lot of people would think. Including I suspect people like George Washington.

But then, what do I know? I'm not an expert on the distinction between Federal and state/local copyright rights, and I casually used "slander" when I should have probably used a more neutral term like "trashed reputation," so obviously I'm a moron.
posted by localroger at 6:17 PM on October 9, 2012


Dammit! I just image-searched ["my name" + mugshot] and found ... nothing relevant. Which is too bad, as I was quite well put-together that day (though probably not quite as fine as Mr. Bowie). The heartaching waste of a pre-Internet youth.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:24 PM on October 9, 2012


Thank you feral_goldfish, you inspired me to do the same thing and I found that hundreds of people with my name have been arrested all over the country. No worries for me!
posted by wierdo at 6:27 PM on October 9, 2012


My real name is Roger Williams. I dare you to try it.
posted by localroger at 6:29 PM on October 9, 2012


My real name is Roger Williams. I dare you to try it.

Challenge accepted. I went up to my wife and said "Hi, I'm Roger Williams." I got a weird look.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:13 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe, I have to admit it never occurred to me to do google image search using my wife as a proxy. That could be ... convenient. Or something else.
posted by localroger at 7:16 PM on October 9, 2012


You basically argue that there is no point having laws.

nah, if that were the case, the world would be ridiculously grim and depressing!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:12 AM on October 10, 2012


Yes, words have meanings. In fact many words have multiple meanings, including words that have lay and legal meanings. rtha stated my complaint without, hopefully, offending your refined sense of legal semantics and yet you still chose to evade the point. This suggests that you do not have a counter which a normal person would accept to that point.

Your treatise on "dictionary quibble" is not responsive to my questions, which asked, "If telling the truth about you harms your reputation, how is that the teller's fault? You want people to not be able to tell the truth about you? Is that what you want?"

I presume you do not need a dictionary to answer such questions.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:12 AM on October 10, 2012


If telling the truth about you harms your reputation, how is that the teller's fault?

If the truth being told strongly implies a falsehood which is not corrected by the truth-teller, then the "truth" is actually a lie of omission.

There are also different ways of telling. Making a fact available for researchers who are willing to go to City Hall is not the same as conveniently indexing it on a the web, or broadcasting it with lurid appeal.

If you truly cannot see the difference then I suspect neither rtha nor I will be able to explain it further unless you get your firmware upgraded.
posted by localroger at 10:29 AM on October 10, 2012


If the truth being told strongly implies a falsehood which is not corrected by the truth-teller, then the "truth" is actually a lie of omission.

That was not my question.

If it is publicized that you have been arrested for DUI, that is the truth. There is no lie of omission. Every mugshot collection I have ever seen features language to the effect of, "They have not been convicted of the charges listed and are presumed innocent. The charges listed were current as of the time the photo was taken."

Where's the big lie of omission is such a case?
posted by Tanizaki at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2012


That is just ridiculous. He's clearly perfect. How can anyone compete?
posted by sweetkid at 8:17 PM on October 9


The great thing is that he's not perfect. He has the fucked-up eye thing going on (from a childhood fight, I believe). But that just makes him look even more amazing.

I always said that I could never imagine being gay, but the closest I ever got to imagining it was when looking at pictures of Bowie. He's just an incredible-looking person.
posted by Decani at 11:39 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it is publicized that you have been arrested for DUI, that is the truth. There is no lie of omission.

Yes there is, because most people do not possess your robotic ability to discern fine shades of meaning, and they very frequently make the leap from "arrested for DUI" to "guilty of DUI" despite the fine print warning them not to. This is very common human behavior and if you act as if it is not, your actions will not have the consequences you expect.

Unlike you, the human operators of these websites obviously know about this common perceptual defect, because they are sharp enough to try and extort fees from the victims of their partial truth telling which nobody would consider paying if there wasn't a good reason.

It's true that if everybody was as robotically sensitive to fine shades of truth as you are there would be nothing wrong with the websites. That is not the world we live in though, and pretending it is does not make you a superior intellect. If it makes you argue that doing things like this is OK, it makes you a monster.
posted by localroger at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2012


Yes there is, because most people do not possess your robotic ability to discern fine shades of meaning, and they very frequently make the leap from "arrested for DUI" to "guilty of DUI" despite the fine print warning them not to. This is very common human behavior and if you act as if it is not, your actions will not have the consequences you expect.

You have conceded there is no lie of omission. This is all about people confused about the difference between "arrested" and "guilty", but any such confusion should be dispelled by the disclaimer, "They have not been convicted of the charges listed and are presumed innocent. The charges listed were current as of the time the photo was taken." (emphasis added, because it is apparently needed)

I do not think it requires "robotic sensitivity" to understand the difference between "arrested" and "guilty" or to read the 7th-grade-level disclaimer that appears in normal-size type, not "fine print".
posted by Tanizaki at 12:26 PM on October 10, 2012


I do not think it requires "robotic sensitivity" to understand the difference between "arrested" and "guilty" or to read the 7th-grade-level disclaimer that appears in normal-size type, not "fine print".

Then you clearly do not get out much. People do not act as you suggest, and if they did these websites wouldn't exist in the first place.

Yes there is a lie of omission. It is a lie in the same way the dealer of a game of 3 card monty or a stage magician is engaged in a deception; yes the information is all visible, but it is presented in a way the dealer knows most people won't perceive. In the case of the mugshot sites the truth is that that disclaimer is extremely important, but hardly anybody notices it and hardly any of those who do realize just what it means.

You have backed yourself into a truly inhuman corner with this childish insistence that literal documentary truth is some kind of absolute defense against moral hazard. It is for this very reason that truth is not an absolute defense against libel in much of the world (a situation which admittedly creates other often worse abuses).

I could understand arguing that there is a slippery slope toward the situation in the UK where the libel laws are a big problem for journalists and whistleblowers. But to pretend there is no problem at all because TRUTH is just crazy.
posted by localroger at 12:36 PM on October 10, 2012


I do not think it requires "robotic sensitivity" to understand the difference between "arrested" and "guilty"

And yet you became a lawyer, which profession often requires its practitioners to understand that lay people do not know and/or understand how words can have a particular meaning in a legal sense that they may lack or be flexible on in colloquial use, and to be able to explain those differences to lay people. Your astonishment that lay people may not use or understand legal terms in exactly the same way as lawyers is strange to me.
posted by rtha at 2:06 PM on October 10, 2012


You have backed yourself into a truly inhuman corner with this childish insistence that literal documentary truth is some kind of absolute defense against moral hazard. It is for this very reason that truth is not an absolute defense against libel in much of the world (a situation which admittedly creates other often worse abuses).

Who cares what is or is not an absolute defense anywhere else in the world? How many of those countries have anything like the First Amendment? It is an absolute defense in the subject country, so the laws of other countries do not matter. How is there any moral hazard in someone telling the truth about you?

By the way, how do you know, "hardly anybody notices it and hardly any of those who do realize just what it means"? This strikes me as a fact that you have made up yet you are arguing as if it were true.

And yet you became a lawyer, which profession often requires its practitioners to understand that lay people do not know and/or understand how words can have a particular meaning in a legal sense that they may lack or be flexible on in colloquial use, and to be able to explain those differences to lay people. Your astonishment that lay people may not use or understand legal terms in exactly the same way as lawyers is strange to me.

I do not think that "arrested" and "guilty" are such arcane legal jargon that they are beyond the grasp of laymen. Are there colloquial uses for "arrested" and "guilty"?

But fine, I'll bite. What words do you suggest I use to describe to a layman that a person was arrested?
posted by Tanizaki at 2:57 PM on October 10, 2012


I give up.

You want to only engage in a technical discussion about the precise legal meanings of certain terms; you'll nitpick to death someone's incorrect (in a court) use of a word or phrase, but avoid addressing the issue some of us are talking about: that the entirely legal publication of a truth-that-doesn't-tell-the-whole-story can have consequences in a way they didn't until fairly recently. I'm done.
posted by rtha at 4:04 PM on October 10, 2012


Who cares what is or is not an absolute defense anywhere else in the world?

Why do you keep running back to the law as if it is the only, or even the best, arbiter of whether a thing is right or wrong? All laws are hack jobs which poorly fit the messy reality of the world. The First Amendment was the US Founders' solution to a problem they saw as important; it causes the problem at hand though. Britain strikes a different compromise. The fact that hundreds of millions of people live without thinking it odd under a system that strikes a different compromise should be all the evidence you need that neither stance does a good job of covering every circumstance.

By the way, how do you know, "hardly anybody notices it and hardly any of those who do realize just what it means"? This strikes me as a fact that you have made up yet you are arguing as if it were true.

There are whole books about how this works. Lots of them. Textbooks, pop psych books, even books to teach you how to gamble to advantage or grift. I've observed it myself and taken advantage of it.

What words do you suggest I use to describe to a layman that a person was arrested?

It doesn't matter what words you use, or what typeface you put them in, because in a perceptual conflict between text and a picture the picture will always win, especially when it engages our sexual identity, our sense of moral certainty, or other similar hooks. You could put the disclaimer in 48 point flashing red type and it might as well not be there because all anyone who comes to the site is going to remember is the picture, and that it's a picture of a bad person because they came to the site to see pictures of bad people.

If you put a picture of someone in a set like that, nearly everyone will remember them as a bad person no matter what the text says. Numerous psychological experiments have verified this. It's a known problem with witness evidence and it's a known problem with police lineups. It has put innocent people in jail for years before they were exonerated by the Innocence Project.

This is neither obscure nor is it rocket science, and since you claim to be a lawyer I assume you are older than 14 and have therefore had a chance to learn about this tendency of humans not to see what is in front of their faces for yourself. Since you're pretending you haven't, I'll reiterate that I think you are arguing in bad faith and I will just duck out after rtha before the door slams.
posted by localroger at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this what all the spam I'm suddenly (like, this past month or so) deleting from my inbox is? It always says stuff like, "I can't believe your father was busted for drugs."
posted by BibiRose at 9:22 AM on October 11, 2012


Some of these attorneys seem to think that publishing the name of someone who is arrested or charged--and even convicted!--of a crime is a punishment.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2012


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