PACER fees to increase by 25%.
U.S. courts plan to raise fees for accessing public court records by 25%, from 8 cents per page to 10 cents per page.
PACER, the website containing U.S. judicial records, is quite lucrative for the courts. With the new price hike, the first since 2005, PACER revenues are expected to exceed $100 million annually, according to Ars Technica.
But what the courts are doing with that money may be illegal, according to an open-government expert at Princeton University.
Harlan Yu found that PACER revenue has been diverted for projects unrelated to PACER. He cited the 2002 law authorizing the PACER fees, which states that those fees may be charged "only to the extent necessary" to cover the costs of providing public access, he told Ars.
In one example, PACER fees paid for a courtroom renovation that included a flat screen monitor for every juror and the latest audio technology.
Yu called the PACER fee hike "unreasonable" with private-sector IT costs dropping, Ars said. Instead, he suggested that the courts should "rethink how PACER is built."
Currently, there are about 200 separate PACER websites, each serving a different judicial district. Consolidating those 200 servers into a single website hosted from a modern data center would improve the user experience and dramatically reduce IT costs, Ars noted.
Yu argued that the very concept of charging for copies of public records is misguided. He suggested that instead of raising fees to fund the development of a more elaborate PACER site, the courts should publish their raw data and allow private parties, such as Google or the Internet Archive, to build websites using that data.