After seven-plus years and a 2,800-mile move, Christopher Jones thought he'd left behind the arrest that capped a bitter break-up—until he searched the Internet last month and came face-to-face with his 2006 police mug shot. The information below the photo, one of millions posted on mugshots.com, didn't mention that the apartment Jones was arrested for burglarizing was the one he'd recently moved out of, or that Florida prosecutors quickly dropped the case. But, otherwise, his run-in with the law was there for all the world to see. And if he wanted to erase the evidence, says Jones, the site's operator told him it would cost $399.
It's an increasingly common phenomenon, as a fast-proliferating number of websites snap up mug shots—even of people whose charges were later dismissed. The sites, some charging fees exceeding $1,000 to "unpublish" records, have prompted lawsuits in Ohio and Pennsylvania and legislation in Georgia and Utah to make it easier to remove the photos without charge or otherwise curb the sites. "The First Amendment gives people the right to do this," says a lawyer for mugshots.com. Other proponents claim that, for instance, parents have the right to know if their kids' teachers or coaches have been arrested. But critics say that's a slippery slope: "I can't find any public interest that's served if you are willing to take (a mug shot) down if I give you $500," says a Georgia lawmaker who authored a law that will require sites to remove mug shots free for those who can show charges have been dismissed. (Read more mug shots stories.)