Free Pacer Sites Shut Down After Mass Download by Open Records Advocate

A trial of free Pacer service at 17 public libraries shut down last fall after public records advocates downloaded an estimated 20 percent of the entire database.

At the time, an official from the Government Printing Office told librarians that Pacer security had been compromised and the FBI was conducting an investigation, the New York Times reports. A government notice said the program was suspended “pending an evaluation.”

Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old Stanford dropout, did the mass download from Pacer at the behest of open records advocate Carl Malamud, who wants to make the court documents available for free on the Internet, the story says. Last year, Malamud used $600,000 in contributions to buy and post 50 years of federal appellate papers. Now he wants to post lower court records.

Pacer charges 8 cents a page for court documents and uses the fees help pay for court technology. The New York Times cites recent court reports putting the surplus funds generated at about $150 million.

“Pacer is just so awful,” said Malamud, founder of PublicResource.org. He told the Times the system separates the people from the “operating system for democracy.”

Malamud says he would like to serve in the Obama administration, perhaps even as head of the Government Printing Office. The suggestion prompted laughter from John Podesta, head of Barack Obama’s transition team, the story reports. “He would certainly shake things up,” Podesta told the Times.

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