Lieberman questions courts on information-sharing law

The federal court system may be charging too much money for public online documents and may not be adequately protecting private information in those documents, according to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Lieberman on Feb. 27 sent a letter to the policy-making Judicial Conference of the United States requesting further information on whether the federal courts are complying with the provisions of the E-Government Act of 2002.

Under that law, court documents are electronically released through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which charges recipients eight cents a page.

Lieberman questioned whether the fees are too high, given that the records system appears to be charging more than what is needed to cover its expenses. He also raised concerns about whether the records system is adequately serving the public and protecting the information.

”Seven years after the passage of the E-Government Act, it appears that little has been done to make these records freely available – with PACER charging a higher rate than 2002,” Lieberman wrote. “Furthermore, the funds generated by these fees are still well higher than the cost of dissemination, as the Judiciary Information Technology Fund had a surplus of approximately $150 million in FY2006.”

Lieberman also cited a recent investigation by the nonprofit PublicResource.org that indicated personal information is not being redacted from the records.

“Given the sensitivity of this information and the potential for identity theft or worse, I would like the court to review the steps they take to ensure this information is protected and report to [a Senate committee] on how this provision has been implemented as we work to increase public access to court records,” Lieberman wrote.

Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to Lee Rosenthal, chairman of the judicial conference’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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