I can’t help but cheer Senator Joe Lieberman for his most recent line of inquiry. He asked the federal judiciary policy-making group why the public has to pay for electronic access to federal court records when the court system has a $150 million surplus?
It’s a good question. They’re public records, though the guidelines allow the courts “to the extent necessary” to charge fees for access to data, but if you’re rollin’ that kinda cash, do you really need to nickel and dime the public? It doesn’t cost much if you’re just grabbing a document here and there (8 cents a document plus time online), but a reporter can rack up a lot of fees pretty quickly. And you have to sign up and wait for your login to arrive by mail.
I’m curious, though, why Lieberman brought it up. Perhaps he’s trying to grab Obama’s ear, since the president has called for greater transparency and access to government records. Perhaps he wanted to see his name in the news for a reason that doesn’t really piss anybody off. Perhaps the senator just thinks it’s the right thing to do.
Whatever the reason, it’s encouraging news. I wonder, though, what kind of traffic PACER’s servers can handle. Would increased use require upgrades for the system? (Not a bad idea anyway, by the way. It’s pretty clunky.)
Encouraging, yes. But at the end of the day you can get a hold of these documents if need be. When we’ve got politicians demanding the release of data that isn’t already public, then we’ll really be in business.