Problem with free public records online

Most free government public record name search sites contain no personal identifiers beyond the name. This can be a problem when researching a common .
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PACER profits apparently financed flat-screen monitors for jurors and new audio systems for courtrooms. The database isn't free to run, and some argue that justifies charging people to access it. But a class action lawsuit claims the profits far outweigh those costs. And instead of using those profits to modernize the system, the plaintiffs allege, the government uses them to finance other things. The cost and the crummy tech the PACER site looks like an artifact of the s conspire to place those documents beyond public reach.

But the agency's own figures would appear to support at least some of the plaintiffs' claims.

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PACER profits apparently financed flat-screen monitors for jurors and new audio systems for courtrooms, among other things—expenses the plaintiffs allege are illegal and show the Administrative Office is breaking the law by charging more for PACER than the system costs to run. The E-Government Act of stipulates that the courts can charge only enough "to reimburse expenses in providing these services," and the plaintiffs hope to recover the cash from what they claim are years of overpaying.

By charging more than it should, Gupta says, the federal court system is in effect preventing people from accessing court records. But a class action lawsuit, which seeks to recover what the plaintiffs say are overcharges, claims the profits far outweigh those costs.


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One plaintiff in the suit, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, advocates on behalf of veterans, many of whom represent themselves. Two other nonprofits named as plaintiffs, the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice, identify trends and problems in the legal system by analyzing large numbers of cases to find patterns. Such cases can run hundreds of pages, making them prohibitively expensive, Gupta says.

PACER offers a fee-waiver program, but implementation is spotty. In , the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting sought a four-month waiver to research "the effectiveness of the court's conflict-checking software and hardware to help federal judges identify situations requiring their recusal. Org , which is involved in several lawsuits to identify documents he claims should be freely available.

Malamud, who had long taken issue with PACER's pay-per-page system, urged open-government advocates to visit those libraries, download PACER documents, and share them in an online repository that anyone could access. The documents revealed scores of privacy violations, including the identities and social security numbers of Secret Service agents, and led to stricter privacy enforcement in the federal courts. Upgrading the database and website to improve usability and organization would cost money as well.

And it is not at all unreasonable for the judiciary to want the latest technology deployed throughout the federal court system, which certainly could be underwritten by PACER fees if the law allowed it. No one denies this. He'd like to see the lawsuit prompt policy changes. If the judicial system stops seeing PACER as a revenue stream for other things, perhaps it will have less incentive to maintain the paywall. Getty Images. And I am hopeful that they will be lowered.

But I hope that our conversation about document access fees can extend beyond the federal courts. More importantly, if we decide to deal with issues like corruption through disclosures rather than direct regulation—i. To those who compare PACER records to things like driver's licenses and university tuition , where the government is allowed to charge more than the cost of the services delivered and use the surplus for other purposes: one premise of all the objections to PACER is that public records, and particularly judicial records, are importantly different from these other things.

Put simply, citizens of a democracy have a right to monitor their government. Subjects of a rule of law legal system have a right to observe their legal system and learn how the law works on the ground as well as in the books, see that justice is delivered without favor, and organize politically around judicial outcomes.

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Access to judicial records is a central component of democratic governance under law. Public entities, of course, often do charge user fees beyond the marginal cost of maintaining the service. Sometimes that policy is designed to lower demand for the service like my town paying for trash collection , and sometimes it is explicitly designed as a fundraiser like a public school bake sale. Let's see if they also introduce a bill to make the SAT, the driver's license, car tabs, and the concealed carry permit free.

What if colleges charged more for tuition than it cost to provide lectures? What if tuition money was being siphoned off for research, for instance? If your driver's license is a public record, would it be unconstitutional to charge for that?

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What about a concealed carry license? If a driver's license is a private record, could someone agree to make it public so they could get it for free? Would forcing someone to make it public to get it for free violate their right to privacy? It is firmly established that the First Amendment's aegis extends further than the text's proscription on laws "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. It would be just worth to note, that free speech and freedom of information act are definitely involved here.

Correct, this is not expressive issue, yet, courts in US, have held not once,that" effective free speech "is an issue of free speech. Effective,that is to say, that one must establish and gather and consolidate information, in order to exercise his free speech right.

What is described in that post,touches it directly,by all means so. Also,you mention a gap of cost 0. The law typically, is meaningless without rulings, interpretation, and precedents.

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Online Rebel Publishes Millions of Dollars in U.S. Court Records for Free

That's life. But, not knowing the law, can't dismiss no one. Clear fact!! This is not a defense at all almost. So, public,let alone, public servants, must have free access to documents of such at least rulings in order to understand and obey the law.

How To Find Official Public Records Online

That reminds me, very interesting case recently held In the eleventh circuit, I quote what is all about :. Answering this question means confronting profound and difficult issues about the nature of law in our society and the rights of citizens to have unfettered access to the legal edicts that govern their lives. Thus, we conclude that the annotations in the OCGA are attributable to the constructive authorship of the People. To advance the interests and effect the will of the People, their agents in the General Assembly have chosen to create an official exposition on the meaning of the laws of Georgia.

The resulting work is intrinsically public domain material, belonging to the People, and, as such, must be free for publication by all. Hear hear. I have never been able to understand how we can claim to be operating a democracy under the rule of law when there's a fee charged to citizens for seeking public information about the conduct of their officials. Email Address:. Remember personal info?


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Our Sponsor Advertise here! Subscribe to this blog's feed. Search Site. Add me to your TypePad People list. Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on February 13, at AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick , Law and Politics Permalink Comments To those who compare PACER records to things like driver's licenses and university tuition , where the government is allowed to charge more than the cost of the services delivered and use the surplus for other purposes: one premise of all the objections to PACER is that public records, and particularly judicial records, are importantly different from these other things.

The same cannot be said for drivers licenses and such. Posted by: Paul Gowder Feb 18, AM Public entities, of course, often do charge user fees beyond the marginal cost of maintaining the service. Posted by: Motor Vehicle Collusion Feb 14, AM If your driver's license is a public record, would it be unconstitutional to charge for that?