Thursday, February 12, 2009

NYTimes: "An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy"

Earlier today I urged folks to vote for PACER on the new Show Us the Data site. Tonight, the NY Times posted a well-researched article entitled "An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy" on the latest efforts to "liberate" the court documents.

...a small group of dedicated open-government activists teamed up to push the court records system into the 21st century — by simply grabbing enormous chunks of the database and giving the documents away, to the great annoyance of the government.


To Mr. Malamud, putting the nation’s legal system behind a wall of cash and kludge separates the people from what he calls the “operating system for democracy.” So, using $600,000 in contributions in 2008, he bought a 50-year archive of papers from the federal appellate courts and placed them online. By this year, he was ready to take on the larger database of district courts.

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.

Carl has posted his correspondence with various courts related to their redaction errors and privacy issues.

What can you do? Vote for PACER on Show Us the Data!

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