Court records going digital, but possibly not for public access
Sigmund Schutz discusses the state of Maine's $15 million dollar project to digitize its court records, which faces criticism from open-access advocates.
“The public does not benefit from a secret court system, operating in obscurity, with meaningful access limited only to persons deemed worthy of finding out what’s going on,” attorney Sigmund Schutz said in a letter to the task force on behalf of 10 public interest and media groups, including the Portland Press Herald. A public record available at a clerk’s office, he said, also should be available in digital form.
The task force’s recommendation is the latest example of public institutions nationwide moving to limit or close public access to government records or meetings, experts say. The trend runs contrary to the federal court system policy, which allows online access to documents through its Pacer system.
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which defends civil liberties in the digital realm, the First Amendment is clear: “If it’s a public record, it’s a public record. The public has a First Amendment right of access,” said David Greene, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That seems awfully backwards to say that now that (the information) is more accessible, we’re going to throw shade over it.”