Electronic Case Filing and Public Record Retrieval

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Friday, October 02, 2009

RECAP’s Filings Lack Authenticity, But Will This Change?

RECAP, a plugin for Firefox that helps PACER users build a free repository of public court records, has received lots of press since it debuted for various reasons. I suspect many people are attracted to its principle of increasing government transparency and praise it, yet have never used it. One significant issue that prevents law firms and other professionals from using RECAP is the simple fact that there is no guarantee when you download a filing, it is truly the Pacer filing you intended to obtain.

RECAP clearly states on their site "We rely on RECAP users to donate documents to the repository. If the courts used a technology called digital signatures, we would be able to independently verify the authenticity of documents submitted to us by users. But so far the courts have not done this, so we have no foolproof way to detect forgeries. We believe that all the documents currently in RECAP are genuine, and we’re going to do our best to keep it that way. But we can’t guarantee that vandalism or technical glitches won’t cause problems in the future. So if you need a guarantee that a document is genuine, we recommend you pay for the PACER version."

That's the bad news. But here's the good news: the first digitally-signed judicial order has been issued. The National Notary Association reports "In an event that could transform the manner in which orders are issued throughout the entire judicial system, a U.S. District Judge has issued the nation’s first digitally-signed, all-electronic judicial order.

John M. Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, signed the order utilizing a digital certificate obtained through services provided by the National Notary Association (NNA) and technologies developed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), VeriSign, Adobe Systems Inc., SafeNet and Chosen Security.

“The capability to digitally sign an order or other document should create in the people who receive it an assurance that the document was signed by the judge, and eliminate corrupt attempts to use forged, electronically created documents for improper ends,” said Judge Facciola. “It is the next logical development in the transition by the court from paper to electronic filing that will keep the court's way of doing things consistent and contemporary with the actual practices of the society that the court serves,” Judge Facciola added."

So it appears the federal government's digital document authentication process is improving, but just how long it will take to carry over to Pacer, and then benefit RECAP users is anyone's guess.

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