Federal judiciary funds IT war chest 8 cents at a time

The federal judiciary may be operating its electronic public records program as a cash cow, charging the public a lot more than what it costs to operate the program, according to an advocate for open government.

Editor's note: this article was corrected July 8 to clarify the sponsorship of Law.gov

The federal court system may be operating its electronic public records program as a cash cow, charging the public a lot more than what it costs to operate the program, according to an advocate of open government.

Although the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) program charges 8 cents a page for downloads and is expected to generate $94 million in new revenues this year, that amount far exceeds the cost to operate PACER, according to Stephen Schultze, associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.

According to the judiciary’s Fiscal 2010 Financial Plan, “public access services and applications,” which is PACER, is budgeted at $21.9 million for the year. Additional electronic public access-related programs include Case Management/Electronic Case File System, $27 million; telecommunications, $25 million; courtroom technology, $25 million; and electronic bankruptcy notifications, $10 million.


Related stories

Now playing: The federal judiciary channel on YouTube

Open government plans updated, criticized


The judiciary acknowledges that revenue generated from PACER pays for those additional electronic public access-related programs at the courts.

“That money has been something of a war chest for future projects such as Case Management/Electronic Case File System [CM/ECF] Next Gen and other public access enhancements,” said Karen Redmond, public information officer for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “By statute, all revenue must be pumped back into the judiciary's CM/ECF system and other technological advances.”

However, Schultze contends that allowing the PACER revenues to pay for items not directly related to PACER costs, such as courtroom technology and case management upgrades, appears to be a violation of the court systems’ authorization from Congress under the E-Government Act of 2002. In that law, Congress allowed the courts to charge "only to the extent necessary" for electronic public access.

Schultze said the current fee system is unfair to the members of the public who want to access court records. If they were charged strictly at cost, the expense of accessing the records would be much lower, he said. Under the current system, it is not uncommon for a search of legal records to cost in the hundreds of dollars, he said.

“The judiciary is using PACER to cross-subsidize other technology projects at the courts,” Schultze said in an inrerview. “Most fundamentally, this is an open government issue.”

The judiciary defends its use of PACER funding for case management system upgrades and other related public access purposes. It considers all the electronic public access programs to be closely related and in a common purview.

“Many people use PACER and electronic public access interchangeably,” Redmond said. “It costs a lot of money to maintain, modernize, and constantly secure the PACER system.”

Meanwhile, Schultze’s campaign to publicize the alleged inequity is gaining some traction. It recently was noted in a White House Office of Science and  Technology blog entry on June 15 by Beth Noveck, White House deputy chief technology officer.

“PACER, the federal courts' court records online system, imposes eight cent per page cost that several speakers commented on as limiting access to court records,” Noveck wrote in the blog.

Schultze’s activity is part of a broader movement for more free and open public access to government legal documents, known as Law.gov, sponsored by several academics and other advocates being coordinated by Public.Resource.org, which is a non-profit organization.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.