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Open government advocates are quickly losing patience with the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO). After the AO doubled the quarterly fee waiver from $15 to $30 in January, Advocates from argue FixTheCourt called it “Wholly Inadequate” and have called for the US Courts to change antiquated business model of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system which charges the public thousands of times more than it should cost to provide access to federal court documents. I completely agree with FixTheCourt. Government information, including US court records, should be free to the public! Litigation on PACER is ongoing, but let’s hope we can get some solid legislation to MAKE PACER FREE! It’s long beyond time.
Open government advocates are decrying recent changes to the PACER fee scale as wholly inadequate and are calling on Congress to improve upon and advance bipartisan bills to reduce the costs of accessing federal court records. The move comes as the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO) officially notified House and Senate leadership last week of its previously approved changes to PACER charges.
…it is estimated that the actual cost to retrieve these documents, with storage fees built in, is $0.0000006 per page. Storing the roughly one billion documents in PACER should then run about $600,000, or about one-half of one percent of PACER’s reported revenue ($146.4 million in 2016). And yet, the AO still charges $0.10 per page of search results and $0.10 per page of case documents.
Judiciary Creates Public User Group for PACER, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (June 26, 2019).
The federal Judiciary has created and is seeking members for a public user group to provide advice and feedback on ways to improve its electronic public access services. The Electronic Public Access (EPA) Public User Group membership will be selected from interested applicants who represent the legal sector, media, academia, government agencies, the public, and other entities that use the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to access federal court records. The group will allow for the exchange of information about issues experienced by users, and it will recommend ideas for expanding and improving services….
Interested parties can find additional information and apply for membership. Applications are due by July 26, 2019….
The EPA User Group will hold its first meeting later this year. Meeting agendas, minutes, and other relevant information will be available online at https://www.uscourts.gov/court-records/electronic-public-access-public-user-group.
Our friend Stephen Schultze, a 3rd year Georgetown University law student (formerly associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University), argues in a new paper that the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system should be free. We concur!
Schultze, Stephen, The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records (December 4, 2017). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 4, 2018. Available at SSRN.
This paper argues that the federal judiciary has erected a fee structure that makes public records practically inaccessible for many members of the public and for essential democratic purposes. The per-page fee model inhibits constitutionally protected activities without promoting equally transcendent ends. Through this fee system, the judiciary collects fees at ever-increasing rates and uses much of the revenue for entirely other purposes — in an era in which the actual cost of storing and transmitting digital records asymptotically approaches zero. PACER should be free.
This is welcome news re the US Supreme Court. Fulfilling a promise outlined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in his 2014 year-end report on the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court is adopting electronic filing for all of its cases. The new electronic filing system will begin operation on November 13, 2017. Full and free Supreme Court dockets will be a boon to lawyers, researchers, students, and the public. Is this the beginning of the end for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system (he says hopefully!)?
After lagging behind other courts for years, the Supreme Court is finally catching up on a key technological feature that will be a boon to researchers, lawyers and analysts of all kinds. It’s moving to adopt electronic filing.
The change will allow the public to access legal filings for all future cases — free of charge. Beginning Nov. 13, the court will require “parties who are represented by counsel” to upload digital copies of their paper submissions. Parties representing themselves will have their filings uploaded by the court’s staff.
All those submissions will then be entered into an online docket for each case, and they will be accessible from the court’s homepage.
This is an amazing offer from Brewster Kahle and the internet Archive. Kahle just wrote a letter to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee on the Judiciary stating unequivocally that they will “archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER.” The “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” or PACER system is the supposedly publicly accessible system of federal court records that charges exorbitant fees to download, thus making it for all intents and purposes blocking meaningful access to federal court records. But with this letter, the whole system could become actually accessible, for free and in perpetuity!
By this submission, tile Internet Archive would like to clearly state to the Judiciary Committee, as well as to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Judicial Conference of the United States, that we would be delighted to archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER…
In order to recognize the vision of universal free access to public court records, the Federal Judiciary would essentially have to do nothing. We are experts at “crawling” online databases in an efficient and careful fashion that does not burden those systems. We are already able to comprehensively crawl PACER from a technical perspective, but the resulting fees would be astronomical. The Federal Judiciary has a Memorandum of Understanding with both the Executive Office for us Trustees and with the Government Printing Office that gives each entity no-fee access for the public benefit. The collection we would provide to the public would be far more comprehensive than the GPO’s current court opinion program- although I must laud that program for providing a digitally-authenticated collection of many opinions.
By making federal judicial dockets available in this manner, the Federal Judiciary would enable free and unlimited public access to all records that exist in PACER, finally living up to the name of the program. In today’s world, public access means access on the Internet. Public access also means that people can work with big data without having to pass a cash register for each document.
The OpenGov Foundation wrote just released their “Statement on Internet Archive Offer to Deliver Free and Perpetual Public Access to PACER” in which they said:
“The vital public information in PACER is the property of the American people. Public information, from laws to court records, should never be locked away behind paywalls, never be stashed behind arbitrary barriers and never be covered in artificial restrictions. Forcing Americans to pay hard-earned money to access public court records is no better than forcing them to pay a poll tax.
“The Internet Archive’s offer to archive and deliver unrestricted public access to PACER for free and forever is the best possible Valentine’s Day gift to the American people. The Internet Archive is proposing a cost-effective and innovative public-private partnership that will finally fix a clear injustice. There is no reason to do anything but accept this offer in a heartbeat.”