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November 19, 2011

Sunshine Laws Expose the Guilty and the Innocent Forever

by stevenwyer

By definition, “sunshine” laws have been put into place to create transparency in both the state and federal governments. The unintended byproduct of this transparency, however, is creating long-term issues for millions of Americans. Freedom Of Information statutes are exposing people arrested for misdemeanors such as DUI even when the charges are dropped. At issue are the booking records and specifically the pictures or “mug shots” taken at the time of initial booking. While charges may be dropped, the images remain online in perpetuity.

For many people, these incidents are an isolated example of temporary poor judgment. While the incident may have been pushed to the back of a distant memory, the information remains available online. While the law clearly indicates that this information is to be published, for many moving forward is proving to be very challenging.

There are two issues that need to be addressed. The first is that this information is delivered through state and federal regulation; and there is really nothing that can be done about that. The second issue is that this type of information usually ranks very high within a person’s search results – often on page one. If such information requires an explanation, then it is an issue – always.

While all states have a certain element of transparency within public records, some states are more pro-active than others. Take Florida as an example. Florida.arrests.org offers booking records and pictures from a number of different searchable databases run by local police and sheriff databases. This information is all a matter of public record; however making it so readily available is very punitive. This unfortunately demonstrates the unintended consequence of state transparency laws.

Clearly this information can also be used to exploit people and shame them. More troubling is the possibility that it can be easily accessed as current and perspective employers, peers, competitors and social acquaintances are gathering background information. Serving as Managing Director for Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management firm, I can personally attest to the fact that people attempting to address this issue contact our firm every week. While there are several companies that represent the ability to remove the mug shot for a fee, few are providing answers to the underlying issue. From my perspective, people must take control of their identity online in order to protect themselves from future embarrassment.

At Reputation Advocate, we work through an affiliation with a local law firm, Waterford Law Group, to negotiate with the site and remove the mug shot if the situation complies with site terms and conditions. Every day, our company consults with businesses and individuals who have come to a point where online defense is a priority. Removing public records such as these is a first step, however it can provide a false sense of security. Our goal is to position professionals in such a way that they are viewed honestly and transparently while at the same time putting their best foot forward.

We will readily acknowledge that fees are paid in the removal process, but for most people contacting Reputation Advocate this is not an issue – they understand there is cost involved. The questions most people focus on when calling our offices relate to how they might prevent this type of embarrassment again. That is where I believe the true value of our company’s services is found.

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