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Help Agitate to Open Up PACER

Michael Lissner

Update: This initiative has ended.

In Chief Justice Roberts' End of Year Report there were some astounding figures about the size and scope of PACER, the Federal system for court filings. Among his figures was the fact that there are more than "one billion retrievable documents" in PACER:

We believe that this means that PACER is the largest collection of public domain documents locked behind a pay wall. Having access to this information is vital to a functioning judiciary and we are working to break it open.

Public.Resource.org recently published an excellent memo outlining a campaign to retrieve from PACER more of its contents and to create pressure for it to be opened completely. The memo, which is worth a read in itself, defines a strategy of "litigation, supplication, and agitation."

Today we're announcing a plan that should help with the third part of the strategy: Agitation.

Here's how it will work:

  1. Today, you sign up for our email list.
  2. PACER provides a fee waiver for the first $15 that you spend each quarter. Near the end of each quarter, we will send you an email reminding you to download $15-worth of content from PACER, if you haven't done so already.
  3. You install the RECAP extension and then use Think Computer Foundation's Operation Asymptote to identify documents that are not already part of our free public archive.
  4. You download suggested items until you get close to the $15 fee waiver, then you STOP.

Our hope is that the administrators of PACER will notice an unusual usage of the quarterly fee waiver and that they will begin to feel pressure to open up the system. At the same time, since we are using the RECAP extension, we will be contributing all of this content to the public domain.

The more people we can get on board this project, the greater our impact will be.

In preparation for this plan of agitation there are four pieces of homework:

  1. Create a PACER account if you do not have one yet.
  2. Install the RECAP extension for Chrome and/or Firefox.
  3. Sign up for the email list so we can remind you when the time is right.
  4. Tell a friend!

Beyond a demonstration that many people care about these documents being free, we hope these efforts will actually make a substantial number of new documents freely available to the public.

Sign up today and let's start agitating.

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