RECAP: cracking open US courtrooms

Any mention of PACER or RECAP will get our attention.   Just this week, RECAP made the news across the pond.  “RECAP: cracking open US courtrooms:  Access to US legal files is being transformed by a Napster-like sharing system called RECAP” by Bobbie Johnson appeared in the Guardian (11/11/2009).
The article starts off: “The legal system is often accused of lagging behind the technological curve – indeed, it is only a couple of years since a high court judge made headlines by saying: “I don’t really understand what a website is.” He later said that the remarks were taken out of context.”  [For more on *that* judge, see here and here.]

Quickly, Johnson moves on to discuss the development of PACER, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s site for Public Access to Court Electronic Records.  (And, blogged about a lot on this site, here, here and here….)

The article continues:

“Their RECAP tool, as the name suggests, aims to turn PACER on its head: by making legal documents more easily available, and dramatically reducing the cost.

“All of the stuff in Pacer is, essentially, part of the law of the land,” says Harlan Yu, a Princeton PhD student and one of the trio behind Recap. “Our nation is governed by laws, and we feel like the law should be accessible to all. And being accessible, in this day and age, means that the law should be online where it’s most accessible to citizens in a way that is free.””

As the article closes, it brings up some of the privacy concerns confronting RECAP and PACER right now.


“For advocates, the bigger question is whether PACER objects: opening access to legal documents is an important part of expanding free data and free information. After all, it was Thomas Jefferson – who made his living practicing the law, among other things – who said that “information is the currency of democracy”.”

For now, the A.O. is in the midst of a survey and evaluation of PACER and the pilot program might re-launch sometime soon. . .In the meantime, go ahead and install RECAP on your library machines.