Geeks seek to make the law Googleable; RECAP in WSJ

Buried on page W13 of today’s Wall Street Journal  is a must-read piece by Katherine Mangu-Ward, “Transparency Chic.”

As the author makes clear:

. . . no aspect of government remains more locked down than the secretive, hierarchical judicial branch. Digital records of court filings, briefs and transcripts sit behind paywalls like Lexis and Westlaw. Legal codes and judicial documents aren’t copyrighted, but governments often cut exclusive distribution deals, rendering other access methods a bit legally questionable. . . .

Which leads her to discuss RECAP:

. . . [Stephen Schultz, Tim Lee and Harlan Wu] whipped up a sleek little add-on to the popular Firefox Internet browser called RECAP (PACER spelled backward). Legit users of the federal court system download it. Then each time they drop eight pennies, it deposits a copy of the page in the free Internet archive. This data joins other poached information, all of which is formatted, relabeled and made searchable—the kind of customer service government tends to skimp on. . . .

This might be the first mainstream press mention of RECAP, which is something we are all abuzz about here.

The author of the Wall Street Journal piece, Katherine Mangu-Ward, a senior editor at Reason magazine, is apparently a bit of a geek herself, giving a Twitter shoutout to those who helped her write the piece:

@kmanguward Thanks @binarybits @carlmalamud @cshirky @evwayne for info, perspective, and snappy quotes in “Transparency Chic”

@evwayne is, of course, our very own Erika Wayne who was interviewed for the piece.

Joe Lieberman seeks Pacer Probe

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
February 27, 2009  
WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Friday sent the following letter to the policy-making body of the Federal Court system requesting proper compliance with the E-Government Act of 2002 on transparency and privacy issues as they relate to court documents:

February 27, 2009

The Honorable Lee H. Rosenthal
Chair, Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure
Judicial Conference of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20544

Dear Judge Rosenthal:

I am writing to inquire if the Court is complying with two key provisions of the E-Government Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-347) which were designed to increase public access to court records and protect the privacy of individuals’  personal information contained in those records.

As you know, court documents are electronically released through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which currently charges $.08 a page for access. While charging for access was previously required, Section 205(e) of the E-Government Act changed a provision of the Judicial Appropriation Act of 2002 (28 U.S.C. 1913 note) so that courts “may, to the extent necessary” instead of “shall” charge fees “for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.”

The goal of this provision, as was clearly stated in the Committee report that accompanied the Senate version of the E-Government Act, was to increase free public access to these records. As the report stated: “[t]he Committee intends to encourage the Judicial Conference to move from a fee structure in which electronic docketing systems are supported primarily by user fees to a fee structure in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible. … Pursuant to existing law, users of PACER are charged fees that are higher than the marginal cost of disseminating the information.”

Seven years after the passage of the E-Government Act, it appears that little has been done to make these records freely available — with PACER charging a higher rate than 2002. Furthermore, the funds generated by these fees are still well higher than the cost of dissemination, as the Judiciary Information Technology Fund had a surplus of approximately $150 million in FY2006. Please explain whether the Judicial Conference is complying with Section 205(e) of the E-Government Act, how PACER fees are determined, and whether the Judicial Conference is only charging “to the extent necessary” for records using the PACER system.

In addition I have concerns that not enough has been done to protect personal information contained in publicly available court filings, potentially violating another provision of the E-Government Act. A recent investigation by Carl Malamud of the non-profit found numerous examples of personal data not being redacted in these records. Given the sensitivity of this information and the potential for indentify theft or worse, I would like the court to review the steps they take to ensure this information is protected and report to the Committee on how this provision has been implemented as we work to increase public access to court records.

I thank you in advance for your time and I look forward to your response.


Joseph I. Lieberman

Harvard Law Library director again in the news

News from the Berkman Center at HLS:


Internet Safety Technical Task Force Releases Final Report on Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies

Findings To Be Presented Today at State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C.

January 14, 2009, Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, D.C. – The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University today released the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a group of 29 leading Internet businesses, non-profit organizations, academics, and technology companies that joined together for a year-long investigation of tools and technologies to create a safer environment on the Internet for youth.

The Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace.  The report was delivered to the 52 Attorneys General in December, 2008.

To read the final report, including the executive summary, as well as reaction statements from members of the Task Force, visit:,


John Palfrey, chair of the Task Force and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center, will discuss the findings of the final report today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time at the Congressional Internet Caucus Fifth Annual State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C. ( along with members of the Task Force.




Seth Young
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

As the FDIC Turns: Senator Schumer’s Letter about IndyMac

The letter that Senator Chuck Schumer sent to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision about IndyMac has been making headlines, especially after the bank run that lead the FDIC to step in officially.

We had a faculty member interested in reading the letter in its entirety, and our search found many places on the web that excerpted selected text, but not the complete correspondence.  Ultimately, our search was successful and I am posting the full text of this hot doc here (hat tip to the nice people at