When the young Salt Lake City man was arrested Nov. 9 for what he described as a "stupid DUI," his girlfriend searched for his name online while he was still behind bars. She discovered that his mug shot was already on a private website for the world to see.
The man who asked that his name not be used because he is trying to "move forward" with his life said he was embarrassed that his friends and family could see his photo. He worried that his grandmother might stumble upon it, or that a potential employer could someday learn about the arrest.
But the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office unveiled a new policy Thursday, effective immediately, that is designed to make his experience less common: Jail booking photos will no longer be posted online.
Salt Lake County sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Cammie Skogg said the policy change was prompted by private websites and magazines posting mug shots online and sometimes charging to remove them. She mentioned receiving a call from a man three years after his wife was arrested.
"Her charges were dropped," Skogg said, "and later her photo showed up on one of these magazines or websites."
The photos are public and re-posting them is legal, but Skogg said the sheriff wants to prevent such entities from profiting on them.
Rather than posting the photos online, the sheriff's office will now require media to file a written request for mug shots via email. Skogg stressed that public information will remain public it just won't be available online.
Tyronne Jacques, the Louisiana-based author of How to Fight Google and Win and founder of the website RemoveSlander.com, praised the new policy. Jacques said jail photos are publicly available because they're supposed to help communities know about the "bad guys." But what actually happens, he argued, is that good people who have done something "crazy" or foolish end up with their faces plastered all over private websites. The result is that people are indefinitely presumed guilty and can miss out on future opportunities.
"The future employer," he said, "is not going to do the research to find out if the person was not convicted."
For a fee, Jacques' company helps people get their photos off third-party websites. He acknowledged that he makes money because the photos are online, but said the primary focus of his business is helping people clean up their online footprint. If fewer mug shots are out there a situation Jacques said he has long advocated his business would simply focus on other things.
Jacques went on to criticize law enforcement agencies that continue to post mug shots online, saying they are responsible for the problem and the third-party sites. He added that those agencies treat arrested people as "trophies."
Barrett Jameson, of the website SLCmugshots.com, called the Salt Lake County sheriff's new policy "sensible," even though he said it would likely dry up his database. Jameson doubts that his company will file GRAMA requests for the photos and estimated that his web traffic will consequently diminish and he will make less on advertising.
Still, he said, he wasn't going to "lose any sleep" over the change. He also speculated that print publications may not be deterred by the added work required to get the photos.
But Jameson noted that many people, including law enforcement, use his website as a "quick reference resource." Citing a past story in The Salt Lake Tribune, he pointed out that the site helped crime victims learn about a man who defrauded them. In other cases, he said, it has helped reunite long-separated families. Jameson said a better solution would have been for the sheriff's office to post the photos online in a PDF document.
"It is far too difficult," he said, "to accurately parse a PDF document with automated tools."
The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office will no longer post jail booking photos online in an effort to slow down third-party websites that have profited by publishing them in print or on the Internet.