A few months back, just for the heck of it, I Googled the name of my old high school girlfriend, just to see what would pop up.
Maybe I would see an updated photo of her, I thought, some pics of her husband and kids. I wasn’t sure why I typed her name in the Google search bar. I suppose it was just one of those days when I had read everything online that I wanted to, but still couldn’t take my laptop off my lap for some reason.
To my surprise, there was only one picture I saw of my former girlfriend in Google Image: It was an arrest mugshot from a DUI charge on a site called Mugshots.com, one of many sites that has made a private business out of public information.
The first thing I thought was, this is probably the last thing she wants people to see, especially the people from her past trying to look her up.
Then I thought, "How many of our classmates happened to Google my old teenage girlfriend, and came across this picture of her staring into the camera with wet eyes and matted hair?"
Welcome to the Information Age. The days of having to go the courthouse to look up an arrest record are long gone, and nowadays those nasty little arrest secrets are extremely hard to hide.
And obviously it’s not just your old high school chums that can end up seeing your mugshot -- it’s current and future employers, new friends you’ve met, new in-laws, a prospective mate and everyone else.
That’s where the website UnpublishArrest.com comes in, as the owners offer a service where you can pay a fee to remove previous arrest records that are stored on the heavily-viewed Mugshot.com.
UnpublishArrest says it has an "established working relationship" with Mugshot.com, and the company’s team of agents are authorized to send requests to the site so your arrest record is removed hours after the request is sent.
To get an arrest record deleted from Mugshot.com, users fill out the online application, click on how many charges they’d like to expunge and attach the URL link where the arrest record and photo is located.
The cost is $300 to remove one arrest, $798 for two arrests, $1,197 for three and $1,479 to remove four arrests from the mugshot site and the various search engines. You can also call the company’s 1-800 number to apply for the service over the phone.
However, Unpublish will only remove your arrest record from Mugshots.com, so your charge could still be on other sites and on the search engines -- at least for awhile.
Unpublish.com says it not only removes your photo and arrest info from Mugshot.com, it will also make the link untraceable when people do Google searches. The company further claims one’s criminal info will eventually be removed from other search engines like Bing or Yahoo after it’s unpublished.
Also, the company claims it will provide a full refund if it is unable to get your arrest record deleted from the mugshot website, since there are only a certain amount of criminal offenses that can be removed by UnpublishArrest.com
Some of the eligible offenses include misdemeanor charges, non-violent charges, charges that have already been legally sealed, and an arrest where the person was ultimately found not guilty.
OK, fine, assuming it actually works as advertised. Obviously, there are a few other things to consider -- such as, if your mugshot appears on the Web, it probably means you should be thinking about retaining a lawyer and clearing your name.
Beyond that, think for a minute about the public policy aspect of this. Some might say that being able to find out if a person was arrested is a good thing, and if someone was arrested for a DUI let’s say, the public -- including employers and everyone -- else should know everything about it.
It is, after all, public information. Just because you have money doesn't mean you should be able to buy your way out of being exposed publicly, does it?
In a report written by a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher entitled “The Digital Scarlet Letter: The Effect of Online Criminal Records on Crime," researchers found that putting a person’s mugshot online to embarrass them is somewhat effective in terms of deterring that person from committing that crime again.
But the report also suggests that putting a person’s arrest online could keep them from getting employment in the future, and lead to recidivism.
“On one hand, greater provision of criminal background information may increase the opportunity cost of crime to potential criminals by endangering their future work prospects and thus act as a crime deterrent,” the report reads.
“Public criminal records could also act as a deterrent through fear of expulsion from socially rewarding networks. On the other hand, online criminal records may make it difficult for ex-convicts to find legitimate employment and lead to higher recidivism rates.”
But is the researcher’s logic correct? Are those people with some sort of record really unable to get a job at all, or is it just harder? And although the author of the report most likely had felony offenses in mind during the research, the argument of whether a person should be able to remove their mug shot from a popular website still applies.
A 2012 report conducted by the job site Careerbuilder.com said that 51 percent of human resource managers hired someone with a criminal record, which could indicate that if one’s charge falls under the one-time-mistake-category, employers may be more forgiving than in years past.
But what if someone has multiple charges? Is it right for a company to provide a service that helps delete all of those records?
Some may say the fact that UnpublishArrest.com allows a person to erase up to four charges is wrong, and a person with that many charges should have their arrest records made public for everyone’s knowledge and safety.
Unpublished doesn’t work with those people who had felony charges or committed violent crimes, so the question is, does someone committing a one-time misdemeanor have the right to hide their offense or is a person trying to hide their offense being dishonest?
The Unpublished site says one's arrest record can be removed from Mugshots.com in a few hours, but it might take longer for those with multiple charges to see their records deleted.
As for just how Unpublished accomplishes this, if in fact it does, we're not certain. If Mugshots is accepting money to take down photos while leaving up other photos, that would not be a very admirable practice, now would it?