Until now, the conversation about government 2.0 has focused almost exclusively on just two of the three branches of government: the executive and legislative. Our project, called RECAP, takes this movement to the third branch—the judiciary. Today, government puts federal court records online in a system called PACER: Public Access to Electronic Court Records. Created by the courts in the late 1980s, the system was ahead of the curve when it first appeared. But today, PACER is a relic of an earlier era. It keeps documents behind a pay-wall, offering users metered access at eight cents per “page” (effectively, per screenful). This pay-to-play model severely hinders widespread access to the law by activists, academics, the media and other concerned citizens with an interest in the judicial process. Fortunately, these public documents are not eligible for copyright, so once a document has been retrieved from PACER, it may be freely shared and reproduced. RECAP enables citizens to easily share federal court documents. The goal of this project, over time, is to publish an extensive archive to the public for free (as in beer). This will not only help people who are interested in a particular case, but will also pave the way for others to build more and better tools.
In our talk, we plan discuss both the technical workings of RECAP, as well as the policy implications of our project. In particular, we will report on the current status of our collection, legal issues we have encountered and the larger policy context for our work.
Stephen is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, where he works on both telecommunications policy and open government. Along with colleagues at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP), he recently launched RECAP, a project to crowdsource federal court transparency. Stephen will be joining CITP in Fall of 2009 as Associate Director.
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