There is always a balance to strike between the public’s right to information and an individual’s right to privacy. While some information is public, most people don’t or won’t go to the trouble to view actual records at public or government offices. However, the internet makes it easy for someone to easily gain access to all sorts of public information.
A new business model is a website that posts your name, mug shot and often other embarrassing information about your arrest (often with domain names including the term “mug shots”) and will remove the data if you pay an one-time fee or use services of a company advertising on the site to restore your online reputation.
I am not sure how I feel about these sites. On the one hand, shaming extortion (blackmail) seems unpalatable. On the other hand, sometimes the best determine is in our fear of what others will think of us. Some report this type of publicity has been determined for DWIS. The information is public. It is available to those interested. It is this freedom that forms the basis of our American pride. Is it wrong to simply facilitate easier access to this information?
Is it wrong that companies are profiting by expressing others’ mistakes? Freedom of speech and press are so important to me, I view this speech in the same manner as pornography. If one does not want to view it, they can look away. The sites are not forced on anyone. In fact, you have to take affirmative action to access the sites. Legal suppression of speech and information can have devastating consequences. However, as a society, we do impose limits on certain types of speech, such as hate speech or yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater.
Should we allow these websites? Should we regulate them? Does it matter how the information is being used? There may be legal problems if employers credit companies or insurance companies are targeted, but it is probably legal in other contexts. Do we require the website to correct wrong information or remove arrest information if charges are dropped or are found not guilty? Should we require removal upon request, without payment of a fee? Do they do more harm or good? How do you feel? Let’s start a conversation about these websites and explore how the community feels.