A Different Take on Open Government

Lora Bentley

PublicResource.org founder Carl Malamud has one overarching goal: To put public court records online -- for free. "Pacer is just so awful," he told the New York Times recently, describing the government's Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system as "15 to 20 years out of date."


PACER, the story says, is "cumbersome, arcane and not free." The government charges 8 cents per page. Though the price is far less than what it costs to use other online legal research services, Malamud says the documents, which are not protected by copyright, should be made freely available on the Web. So last year. using contributions to PublicResource.org, he bought 50 years of federal appeals court records and put them on the Internet, where Google crawlers could get to them. He also had volunteers download as much as they could from federal district court archives after a free trial of PACER began at certain public libraries.


Unfortunately, the free trial was suspended in September. Officials cited a breach in system security.


Given that the new administration campaigned on promises of "open government," Malamud may find friendlier faces at the Government Printing Office these days. Some have even suggested Malamud should be the one to run the GPO for the Obama administration.


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