Twenty Million Page Download of Court Documents Leads to Debate About PACER

During a PACER trial at several libraries nationwide allowing unlimited access to court records last fall, open-government activist Carl Malamud recruited others to download documents from the free servers. According to the recent New York Times article, the government shut down the trial in September 2008 after the group downloaded nearly 20 million pages that Malamud intends to republish for free access on the Internet. Malamud's actions have precipitated an FBI investigation and controversy about the current eight cent per-page charge for accessing court documents. Many believe that this information should be available free of cost on the Internet. However, others feel that "practical obscurity" is essential for protecting individuals' privacy; if the records were more readily available, solicitors could find social security numbers and other private information that is sometimes left uncensored by the government. See our past blog entry about the list of Madoff investors, whose contact information became widely available online after it was published on PACER as a court document.