Is It Time for Federal Court Records to be Free to the Public?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A federal database containing court records has been lauded and criticized by legal experts. On the one hand, Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) provides any American with complete access to docket text, opinions, and all documents filed regarding court cases. PACER has been described as “a tremendously useful tool” by its supporters.


But there is a big drawback to PACER. Users must pay for downloading, viewing, and even searching for case materials.


“This limitation unfortunately forecloses a great deal of democracy-enhancing activity,” wrote Steve Schultze, associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton.


Schultze and others have advocated for making PACER free of charge. Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House to repeal all fees related to PACER.


Meanwhile, a project at Princeton has sought to make some PACER records freely available. RECAP uses crowd-sourcing to collect court documents purchased by PACER users and provide them without cost to the public.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Open Pacer Talk By Steve Schultze -- The Advisory Committee (YouTube)

Pacer, Recap, And The Movement To Free American Case Law (by Stephen Schultze, Legal Information Institute)

U.’S RECAP Project Seeks To Broaden Public Access To Federal Court Documents (by Catherine Ku, Daily Princetonian)

Open Public Access to Court Electronic Records Act of 2013 (U.S. House of Representatives)

Why was Aaron Swartz Threatened with More Prison Time than a Bank Robber or Child Pornographer? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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