Friday, February 13, 2009

Information Wants to be Free

One of my heroes is Carl Malamud, the founder of, whose website makes available government information at no cost. I have to say I find the website somewhat hard to use (it's not particularly user friendly), but I applaud the intent behind it--the dissemination of legal information whose creation was funded by taxpayer dollars. Mr. Malamud has recently turned his attention to Pacer, according to a story in today's New York Times. Pacer (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is run by the government and is notoriously awkward to use; what's worse, it is fee based--8 cents per page to access records that are not copyrighted. "Recently, however, a small group of dedicated open-government activists teamed up to push [Pacer] into the 21st century--by simply grabbing enormous chunks of the database and giving the documents away, to the great annoyance of the government." Court documents can be extremely voluminous, and the 8 cents per page add up--Pacer runs a budget surplus of about $150,000,000. Mr. Malamud was able to put up Pacer documents by encouraging "fellow activists to go to ... libraries [that were hosting a free trial of Pacer], download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them." One activist was able to download about 20% of Pacer before the the government "suspended" the Pacer pilot program. President Obama is on record as supporting open government, and it will be interesting to see if this translates into free access to government information under the Obama Administration.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

You beat me to it! Mary Alice Baish posted a link to the NY Times Blog, Lede, about this caper where Mr. Malamud and Aaron Swartz took about 20% of the Pacer database. Cool story. Sorry about the link. Paste it.