Subject of FBI Investigation Reveals Government Concerns About Access to Federal Courts’ Public PACER System

Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz was apparently the subject of an FBI investigation for “participating in a project to take the publicly owned US court records from the PACER database (where they were very expensive to access) and put them on the web.” 

Mr. Swartz has made this information public by releasing the contents of his FBI file, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. His file reveals that the FBI was treating his access of PACER as a crime which cost the victim, the Administrative Office of the US Courts, approximately $1.5 million. The file suggests, but does not explicitly sate, that the crime may have been a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. §1030), as the FBI apparently asked the Administrative Office of the US Courts how Mr. Swartz would have know his access was unauthorized.

The FBI closed its investigation of Mr. Swartz without filing charges. The investigation of Swartz’s activity, coupled with questions about what constitutes accessing a computer "without authorization" under anti-hacking statutes (as I previously discussed here), suggests that future efforts to open the PACER system (as well as existing efforts, like RECAP) may meet with some government resistance.

For more on efforts to make the PACER system more accessible to the public se our previous posts on the subject.


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