Help Preserve Web Access to Court Records

At the urging of the U.S. Justice Department, the federal judiciary is considering whether to close Internet access to plea agreements and related docket notations in criminal cases. The judiciary is requesting public comment on the proposed restriction to be filed by Oct. 26. This would be a major step backwards for public access to government information. I urge you to submit a comment in opposition.

Reporter Marcia Coyle lays out the issues in her Sept. 17 report in the National Law Journal. Presently, these records are available in digital form through the judiciary’s PACER system. They have long been available as paper files through the courts and will remain so even if they are taken offline.

DOJ’s proposal reflects a dangerous trend among government officials to restrict public access to government information. Some officials seem to take the position that public access is fine as long as it requires the public to dig through musty files in government back rooms. But make public access real, through the Internet, and these officials get antsy. Just this weekend, former White House legal counsel John Dean observed in an interview with the Boston Globe that the reason for government secrecy is often that “you don’t want people to know what you’re doing.” Of course, we have a right to know, and the Internet enhances that right.

So, if you, like me, oppose further restrictions on public access to government information, make your voice heard by filing a comment.