Turning PACER Around
Transparency is a fundamental principle of our legal system. Since the 1980s, the cutting edge of judicial transparency has been PACER, an electronic system that allows attorneys and the general public to access millions of federal court records. PACER was a big step forward when it was originally created, but lately it has begun to show its age. At a time when the other two branches of government are becoming ever more subject to online scrutiny, the judicial branch still requires citizens to provide a credit card and pay eight cents a page for its documents. For reasons we detail on our “Why It Matters” page, we think this needs to change, and the sooner the better.
Today we’re excited to release the public beta of RECAP. RECAP is an extension to the popular Firefox web browser that gives PACER users a hassle-free way to contribute to a free, open repository of federal court records. When a RECAP user purchases a document from PACER, the RECAP extension helps her automatically send a copy of that document to the RECAP archive. And RECAP saves its users money by notifying them when documents they’re searching for are already available for free from the public archive.
RECAP is a project of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. It was developed by Harlan Yu, Steve Schultze, and Timothy B. Lee, under the supervision of Prof. Ed Felten. Some of the key ideas that inspired RECAP are described in this paper, written by Harlan, Ed, and two of their colleagues.
The RECAP repository is hosted by the Internet Archive, a world-renowned online library. With the help of RECAP users, we want to build the nation’s most comprehensive public archive of freely-available federal judicial records. And we’re looking for partners to help us build the archive more quickly and find new, innovative uses for the information. We are already working with Justia and public.resource.org to integrate the public records they already have into our archive.