Surveillance and Social Control through the Collection and Distribution of “Mug Shots” in the U.S.
In contrast to these utilitarian arguments, a surveillance lens extends debate by highlighting the profound reputational and material consequences wrought on those depicted through disclosure. Magnified by the internet’s reach, the stigma of arrest carried in a digital booking photo has been found to extend well beyond an individual’s involvement with the legal system to pervade myriad areas of life including employment, housing, and dating (Lageson 2017). In this paper, we draw on theories of privacy, surveillance, and photographic evidence to analyze arguments concerning the release of mug shots as expressed within public debate, court cases, and Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Positions challenging and affirming the release of such photos are found to be undergirded by starkly disparate assessments of their probative value. These findings point to evolving public understandings of the affordances and dangers of mug shots and surveillance footage in the digital age.