“Ours is different from sites run by other papers, including sister papers within Lee Enterprises,” he added. “We think that it feels slightly less exploitative this way.”

The Tampa Bay Times publishes booking photos as a public service, but the paper has never indexed arrest photos with Google, intentionally choosing to block the search engine’s bots. Publishers have always had that ability, they’ve just chosen not to use it because “they want the traffic,” said Waite. The Times also chooses to delete all images after 60 days, about the time it takes for a case to be adjudicated, Waite added, especially when criminal charges could change, a person is found innocent, or a case is dismissed.

“If your Web application does not reflect the current reality, then you are wrong,” Waite said. “You are publishing knowably false things, and by doing so you are harming people. I have not yet seen a mugshot application that follows each and every case through adjudication and the only [images] that remain in [the system] are of people who have been found guilty. The reason that doesn’t exist is because it is exceedingly hard.”

To do it the right way, Waite said, would mean that mugs would disappear the instant that charges are dropped, cases are thrown out or persons are found innocent. “There doesn’t exist a system where that is possible,” he said.


Tracie Powell writes about the media and media policy, specifically on issues regarding piracy, media ownership, government transparency and the business of journalism. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, she lives in Washington, DC. She has contributed to Poynter, NPR, and Publica, the first nonprofit investigative journalism center in Brazil.