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Still no official word on PACER project

An article in the New York Times adds a little more to the story of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) saga. The article also says of Carl Malamud: “Mr. Malamud said his years of activism had led him to set a long-shot goal: serving in the Obama administration, perhaps even as head of the Government Printing Office.”

Those courts, with the help of the Government Printing Office, had opened a free trial of Pacer at 17 libraries around the country. Mr. Malamud urged fellow activists to go to those libraries, download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them.

Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old Stanford dropout and entrepreneur who read Mr. Malamud’s appeal, managed to download an estimated 20 percent of the entire database: 19,856,160 pages of text.

Then on Sept. 29, all of the free servers stopped serving. The government, it turns out, was not pleased.

A notice went out from the Government Printing Office that the free Pacer pilot program was suspended, “pending an evaluation.” A couple of weeks later, a Government Printing Office official, Richard G. Davis, told librarians that “the security of the Pacer service was compromised. The F.B.I. is conducting an investigation.”

…At the administrative office of the courts, a spokeswoman, Karen Redmond, said she could not comment on the fate of the free trial of Pacer, or whether there had been a criminal investigation into the mass download.

The free program “is not terminated,” Ms. Redmond said. “We’ll just have to see what happens after the evaluation.”

See also Why was PACER suspended? and More on PACER.

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2 Comments

  1. jrjacobs says:

    John Schwartz and Robert Mackey did a nice follow-up blog post on the NY Times Lede blog: Steal These Federal Records — Okay, Not Literally. It’s amazing that “over the course of six weeks, Mr. Swartz was able to download 780 gigabytes of data — 19,856,160 pages of text — from Pacer.” Yet this only amounted to @ 20% of the PACER network. That’s A LOT of documents. Kudos to Aaron Swartz, Steve Schultze, Carl malamud and no doubt other unnamed information activists!!

  2. jrjacobs says:

    I love this line:

    Lawyers for Mr. Malamud and Mr. Swartz told them that they appeared to have broken no laws, noting nonetheless that it was impossible to say what angry government officials might do.

    Can you just imagine what those angry officials might do?! The officials should have thanked Malamud and Swartz for making govt information more accessible!

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