Fortunately, the private sector is proactive where the law fails
A note from Gus:
Being on the sex offender registry isn’t fun. It affects where you can live, ability to get a job, raising a family, and moving past the worst thing you ever did. If being a sex offender isn’t bad enough, most states publicly post the pictures and vital information on sex offenders to their public.
Making matters worse, predatory, spineless vultures have dreamed up a scheme to make money on people’s shame. Websites that publish mugshots and sex offender profiles charge people for their removal, even if that individual was found not guilty, charges were dropped for that crime, or if he/she was removed from sex offender registries.
Sometimes profiles are not removed, even if payment of hundreds of dollars is made. It’s textbook extortion, made legal because this information is public domain via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and protected by the First Amendment.
This makes it nearly impossible for ex-offenders to move past their crime. Lawmakers tow a fine line between charging for extortion and violating First Amendment rights when it comes to public information. However, these predatory sites will punish anybody who questions their motives by sometimes even listing facebook accounts and family information (including addresses) on their front page to invite harassment and even violence.
This article from Forbes, entitled “Payment Providers and Google Will Kill the Mug-Shot Extortion Industry Faster than Lawmakers Can,” details a new move bent on taking this practice off the internets. The article talks of an investigation by New York Times reporter David Segal on the matter (his investigation article is here). Segal spotlighted a few mugshot cases to demonstrate the absurd consequences these mugshot sites have on citizens who deal with them. The ramifications sound very familiar to what registered sex offenders go through, but these people aren’t convicted of crimes and are more palatable to the reader than sex offenders.
Anyway, Segal contacted Google and a bunch of payment processing companies to ask why they supported this type of extortion by providing services to these websites. They’re response was unanimous and against such schemes. All of them have now stopped taking payments for these sites, and Google has implemented an algorithm to tank their web-search SEO. Seems it’s easier to get the private sector to act and cut these sites off at the knees by shutting off funding and burying their queries in the barren wastelands that are past page 1 of Google’s search returns.
Kudos to all involved.