Federal Documents System PACER Accused of Price Gouging
The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system is being accused of charging fees for documents in excess of what is allowed by law.
Three non-profits – the Alliance for Justice, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and the National Consumer Law Center – filed suit in 2016 arguing that the fee structure established by PACER for the purchase of electronic document images was in violation of federal law.
From The New Republic:
“The case hinges on a single phrase in the E-Government Act of 2002. The statute authorizes the judiciary to levy fees “only to the extent necessary” to provide “access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.” Though data storage costs have plummeted over the past two decades, PACER’s fees rose from seven cents a page at its establishment to ten cents a page by 2011, which remains the cost today. That may not sound like much, but it adds up fast. The PACER system itself brought in more than $146 million in fees during the 2016 fiscal year, even though it cost just over $3 million to operate.”
In March of 2018, a Federal Judge ruled that while the arguments of both the plaintiffs and the government were fundamentally lacking, the Federal Judiciary had exceeded Congressional authorization in some of its expenditures. Both the non-profit groups and the government have appealed the decision.
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