More court files online

With little fanfare, the Judicial Conference of the United States, the principal policy-making body for the federal court system, recently reversed itself and approved a pilot program in 11 federal courts that gives the public online access to court files in criminal cases.

The conference launched the program after approving it at a meeting in March, but it was only made public by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on May 7. The information is available via the federal courts' Public Access to Court Electronic Records system.

In August 2001, the conference voted to put most civil and bankruptcy case files online but prohibited electronic access to criminal case files, citing potential safety and law enforcement issues.

Conference members decided, however, to study the issue of allowing access to criminal case files, and "this pilot program is exactly that — a vehicle for studying" the policy, said Dick Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Journalists had criticized the conference's original decision as an effort to make a false distinction between the paper files that are freely available to the public and the electronic versions of those files. The new decision "is good news, and it's heartening to see the judicial conference acted relatively quickly," said Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum.

But privacy advocates fear that allowing electronic access to criminal files will encourage unchecked data mining. "We're working to establish use limitations so these records can be used for journalistic, historical and educational purposes but not for amassing profiles on individuals," said Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.