The case against PACER: tearing down the courts' paywall
In this feature, Ars takes stock of online access to federal court records in the United States. We'll discuss how the system got where it is today, look at where there's room for improvement, and talk to two experts on open government about the prospects for reform. The bottom line is that the courts deserve credit for the progress they made in the 1990s, but a lot more work is needed to bring PACER into the 21st century.
Schultze and Grimmelmann agree that the solution to PACER's problems is for the courts to make court records available for free download. Schultze points to a recent paper from Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy arguing that governments should stick to releasing raw information and allow private parties to build organization and search tools. Schultze predicts that if private parties were given free access to the raw PACER documents, they would quickly build websites that surpass PACER in functionality and ease-of-use.
In the time since I was interviewed for this article, I had a conversation with one of the attorneys for the Administrative Office of the Courts. He was very friendly and candid, answering my questions to the best of his ability. I got the impression that the AO is passionate about access to court records, but struggles with the practicalities of no-fee access. This makes me hopeful that we can constructively work toward a solution.