Critics take aim at mugshot tabloids

Critics take aim at mugshot tabloids

EUGENE, Ore. - His mug shot appears on two websites, even though he hasn't spent a day in jail.

"I don't know how much my reputation will be impacted, so it's a big concern. It's still there," said "John," who asked not to be identified by name for this story.

John was was doing Lane County road crew service to clear up a traffic ticket. The mugshot, a public record, was picked up by websites that traffic in wholesale publication of local mugshots.

"Most people looking at that would just see, oh wow, criminal, bad person," John said.

Independent court observer Carol Berg-Caldwell first heard of the problem last month in Eugene Municipal Court.

Berg-Caldwell thinks publishing pictures of people like John is wrong.

"Even though they have met their debt to society, they're now vulnerable for what many would consider rather extortionate amounts to remove that information from a website," she said.

Berg-Caldwell has sent a complaint to the Oregon Department of Justice. However, a spokesman for the agency said chances that this will become a case are slim.

"It may strike people as completely abhorrent and objectionable," said Jeff Manning with DOJ, "but it's public information."

The companies say they are just re-publishing pictures culled from county jail records.

Mainstream news organizations in Oregon also rely on jail records for mugshots of people accused of crimes. The images are used as part of news stories, not as the primary content.

The mugshot-driven websites and publications retrieve and publish the photographs en masse - and they direct people to services to have the pictures unpublished.

They aren't cheap.

One called "Remove My Mug" offers to have your mugshot removed for only $99, although services range up to $400.

Public record or not, Berg-Caldwell feels if nothing is done, policies at the tabloids won't change.

"Because while I understand that it's legal, freedom of speech - it is morally repugnant," she said.