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Definition - What does PACER mean?

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is a centralized, electronic data system provided by the United States Courts which gives access to registered users to retrieve information about court cases and docket information. The information stored includes data from the federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator.

Opponents of the PACER system argue the system is not transparent or available to the public but rather "locks public documents behind a paywall, lacks a reasonable search engine, and has an interface that's inscrutable to non-lawyers." It also differs from other more accessible systems, such as the Thomas system, which is provided by the Library of Congress and gives access to the public for information about the activities of the legislative branch.

Increased push to allow public access

Advocates continue to fight for increased access to public records arguing that PACER alienates many users because of the requirements to access the system. Currently users must register, provide a credit card number, and are charged eight cents per page. Results can be arbitrary and users may be charged even if they receive no data for a particular search.

Opponents of the current system argue the pay for access feature also makes the system virtually inaccessible to much of the general public and cost prohibitive for many third parties who are unable to pass the costs on to the users.

Why do we need public access?

Advocates for access argue public access ensures the courts are producing decisions which are fair, consistent, and will stand under intense scrutiny. Advocates for increased access also suggest that the arguments used in the past to limit access to data, mainly the inefficiencies or high costs, are no longer valid. For instance, an increase in technology capabilities has made increased availability economically feasible for everyone.


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