Free online access to U.S. federal legal information has been recommended in the National Broadband Plan released by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on March 16, 2010.
The Plan’s recommendation 15.1 seems consistent with the principles of the Law.gov legal open government data movement:
Recommendation 15.1: The primary legal documents of the federal government should be free and accessible to the public on digital platforms.
- For the Executive Branch and independent agencies, this should apply to all executive orders and other public legal documents.
- For Congress, this should apply to all votes, as well as proposed and enacted legislation.
- For the Judicial Branch, this should apply to all judicial opinions.
Every person who is subject to the laws of this country should have free access to those laws online.5 Online legal documents should be appropriately digitally watermarked to preserve their integrity. For the Executive Branch and independent agencies, this means publishing all executive orders and other public legal documents on the Internet and in an easily accessible, machine-readable format. For the Legislative Branch, this means that Congress should publish all votes, as well as proposed and enacted legislation, in a timely manner, online and in a machine-readable and otherwise accessible format.6
Finally, all federal judicial decisions should be accessible for free and made publicly available to the people of the United States. Currently, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system charges for access to federal appellate, district and bankruptcy court records.7 As a result, U.S. federal courts pay private contractors approximately $150 million per year for electronic access to judicial documents.8 While the E-Government Act has mandated that this system change so that this information is as freely available as possible, little progress has been made.9 Congress should consider providing sufficient funds to publish all federal judicial opinions, orders and decisions online in an easily accessible, machine-readable format.
5 See Knight Comm’n, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age 38 (2009) (Knight Comm’n, Informing Communities), available at https://secure.nmmstream.net/anon.newmediamill/aspen/kcfinalenglishbookweb.pdf.
6 Society of Professional Journalists Comments in re NBP PN #20 (Comment Sought on Moving Toward a Digital Democracy—NBP Public Notice #20, GN Docket Nos. 09-47, 09-51, 09-137, Public Notice, 24 FCC Rcd 13810 (WCB 2009) (NBP PN #20)), filed Dec. 9, 2009, at 1 (filed by Kevin Z. Smith).
7 See Public Access To Court Electronic Records—Overview, http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/pacerdesc.html (last visited Jan. 7, 2010).
8 Carl Malmud, President and CEO, Public.Resource.Org., By the People, Address at the Gov 2.0 Summit, Washington, D.C. 25 (Sept. 10, 2009), available at http://resource.org/people/3waves_cover.pdf.
9 See Letter from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman to Carl Malamud, President and CEO, Public.Resources.Org (Oct. 13, 2009), available at
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