I live in Ohio, which means I am dealing with a stink bug invasion. Stink bugs are an Asian species. They are ugly, annoying and hard to get rid of. When they get stepped on, they omit an unpleasant odor. Hence, the name.
So what is the human equivalent of this obnoxious pest? I’m going to nominate these guys. There are companies out there who publish mug shot photos online and, for a fee, remove them. And that’s tough luck for young folks who make a dumb mistake. Most states allow a first time offender to have a criminal record expunged, particularly where it involves a minor, non-violent offense. And the reason for that procedure is to allow a person to move on from an early knuckleheaded incident. The mug shot stink bugs frustrate that objective.
And the business model is even less fair for people who are merely arrested – their mug shot stays up even if the charges are dropped.
But like stinkbugs, the mug shot operators may be here to stay. The mug shots are public record, and should be. There are legitimate reasons for making mug shots available. They are a record of government activity. They may, for example, provide evidence of police brutality. And so efforts to restrict access to the photos raise First Amendment issues. If you’re free to access them, and free to put them up online, then you’re probably free to charge a fee to take them down. Legislation to stop it probably won’t work.
But the market may provide a solution. Google is working on a system to drive these pages off the first page. And Mastercard and PayPal are taking steps to drop the sites as customers. Maybe the market will ultimately exterminate these human stink bugs.