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FCC “Open Internet” Rule will hurt e-government

What will happen to government information on the web if we lose the little net neutrality we still have? Marvin Ammori of Slate’s Future Tense project, in partnership New America and Arizona State University, says that it will result in federal, city, and state government websites that run slowly and deliver errors.

Although Ammori doesn’t say so, I would guess that it will have another, second-order effect on government information. First, using the slow internet lane will make it more difficult for governments to deliver adequate e-government services. Second, Congress and local governing bodies will use this as an excuse, not to fund fast-lane access, but to reduce funding of government information delivery and e-government even further. Finally, the private sector will move in and offer better services and fast lane access, thus privatizing and commercializing government information access and delivery. Private companies will, of course, demand that they get all the government information they want for free and then they will charge the rest of us for access to this valuable, public resource.

On May 15, the FCC created a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet NPRM) that would permit cable and phone companies to create slow and fast lanes on the Internet. The FCC has received an unprecedented number of comments on this proposal (over a million), prompting the FCC to make the comments available to the public for analysis in XML format.

PACER Removes Court Case Documents

On August 10, 2014, The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which runs PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) abruptly announced that a bunch of cases would “no longer be available.” See below for a copy of the announcement and the cases covered.

PACER makes court papers available (for a fee) as well as court opinions (for free). It is not clear from the announcement, but it appears that the removal of these cases will include the removal of the opinions.

Some court opinons are available through CourtWeb (the “Online Federal Court Opinions Information System”) which “provides information on selected recent opinions of those judges of the United States Courts who elect to make information available on this site,” and from the websites of the individual courts.

As a joint “project” of the Government Printing Office and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, FDsys has some United States Courts Opinions, but (apparently) none of the opinions in the list of withdrawn cases and none of the case files that PACER has. PACER includes: a Case Locator service (a national index for U.S. district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts), listings of all parties and participants including judges, attorneys and trustees, compilations of case related information such as cause of action, nature of suit and dollar demand, chronologies of dates of case events entered in the case record, A claims registry, A listing of new cases each day in all courts, Judgments or case status. (In the table below I have included the coverage of case opinions by FDsys.)

There have been attempts, including by Aaron Schwart, to free this information from the fee system (RECAP, Public.Resource.Org), but they have had limited success and have been met with vehement opposition (FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records and Court Tells Users They Can’t Use RECAP).

Although PACER makes court opinions available for free, it is one of the agencies that is required (like NTIS) to recover costs. In 1988, the Judiciary sought appropriations from the U.S. Congress in order to provide electronic public access to court records but Congress did not provide the funds and instead directed the Judiciary to fund the initiative through user fees. As a result, the program relies exclusively on fee revenue (PACER FAQ). It has an elaborate free schedule for searching and obtaining court papers (Electronic Public Access Fee Schedule). The fees that PACER charges have been shown to far exceed its costs (PACER Federal Court Record Fees Exceed System Costs).

Most agencies are permitted by statute to charge fees for access to information. Even GPO is allowed to “charge reasonable fees” (44 USC sec 4102) to the public. (Although it is required to make its systems available to depository libraries without charge, we all know how well trying to charge the public for information available free at libraries worked out for GPO when it tried to charge for GPO Access back in the 1990s: Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP.) Still, the threat always remains that Congress will privatize or commercialize or monetize its information “assets” at any time. As long as we rely on GPO and government agencies to preserve and provide free access to government information, we are playing a risky game (When we depend on pointing instead of collecting). If we lose that game, it is our users who will pay the price (and the cost) and they will not thank us for failing to preserve government information and ensure free access to it.

The Annoucement:

On August 11, a change was made to the PACER architecture in preparation for the implementation of the next generation of the judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. NextGen CM/ECF replaces the older CM/ECF system and provides improvements for users, including a single sign-on for PACER and NextGen CM/ECF. As a result of these architectural changes, the locally developed legacy case management systems in the five courts listed below are now incompatible with PACER; therefore, the judiciary is no longer able to provide electronic access to the closed cases on those systems. The dockets and documents in these cases can be obtained directly from the relevant court. All open cases, as well as any new filings, will continue to be available on PACER.

court cases removed FDsys coverage
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Cases filed prior to January 1, 2010 2010-
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

Cases filed prior to CM/ECF conversion 2005-
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

Cases filed prior to January 1, 2010 2010-
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Cases filed prior to March 1, 2012 [none]
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California

Cases filed prior to May 1, 2001 2005-

Please contact the court directly to obtain copies of documents and dockets in the above cases. Contact information for each court is available on the Court Locator page.

Press coverage:

DOTD: pocket-sized drones


Document of the day: Army researchers develop Cargo Pocket ISR, By Jeffrey Sisto, Natick Soldier RD&E Center, Public Affairs (July 21, 2014).

Researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are developing a pocket-sized aerial surveillance device for Soldiers and small units operating in challenging ground environments.

NARA does digital-deposit… but not to libraries.

Here at FGI, we are long time advocates of digital deposit: the deposit of born-digital government information into Federal Depository Libraries. We know this can be done, but, for a variety of increasingly unjustifiable reasons, neither FDLP libraries nor GPO have been eager to do it.

We were intrigued, therefore, to see this story:

  • US National Archives enshrines Wikipedia in Open Government Plan, plans to upload all holdings to Commons, By The ed17, Wikipedia Signpost (25 June 2014).

    The [NARA] Open Government Plan lays out what NARA wants to accomplish in the next two years; but as a general plan it suffers from a lack of specifics. The Signpost contacted [Dominic] McDevitt-Parks [NARA digital content specialist with a specialty in the Wikimedia sites] to learn what the inclusion of Wikipedia in this plan will mean for the site.

    He told us that there is no quantitative target for a total number of image uploads, because NARA plans to upload all of its holdings to Commons.

    …Given these efforts, McDevitt-Parks says that they will “allow us to more easily upload all of our existing digitized holdings to Wikimedia Commons and similar third-party platforms, and also that in the future upload to platforms like Commons will be the end of all digitization. Looking at it this way, I would say that in a way all of our digitization efforts are also for upload to Wikimedia Commons.”

That’s right: NARA is working to upload (copy, deposit, call it what you will…) all its digitized images to the Wikimedia Commons.

This makes me wonder: Why is Wikimedia more open to digital deposit than FDLP libraries?

It also prompts me to suggest two things:

  1. Since GPO is currently working with LOCKSS-USDOCS to (uh…) deposit all of FDsys into a private LOCKSS Network, why doesn’t it offer similar deposit to any and all FDLP libraries today? Sure, there are lots of technical details to work out, but why not stop saying that GPO cannot deposit digital and start working on the details? Above all, let’s stop saying that Title 44 of the US Code needs to be altered to keep up with born digital. It doesn’t. What does need to change is the attitudes of FDLP libraries — particularly the attitudes of the administrators of those libraries. FDLP librarians: I’m looking at you! Too many of your administrators do not understand the FDLP, the value of govinfo to your users, and the potential value to the library of building digital govinfo collections. Part of your job is to instruct them. Work to convince your administrators that digital deposit can be done and should be done! Tell them that the library will add more value to the library by providing integrated collections and services than it ever will to by chasing broken links and purchasing expensive commercial access and apologizing to users when the government takes information offline. This will add value for users and they will thank you! Think of it as a way to build a free, open-access, no-DRM, digital library!
  2. Given that Wikipedia always needs resources and is always asking for donations and seeking grants, why doesn’t the Library community adopt Wikipedia and its associated collections? Imagine current Wiki staff working inside libraries with librarians and librarians working on Wikipedia! Imagine how libraries could routinely seed Wikipedia with links to library content and collections and services. Imagine the value to all libraries of adding the (I apologize for using this phrase…) “library brand” to Wikipedia.