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Message 00839: Re: PlainSite Update II

This is great, Aaron. 

Re publishing gov't search info: I wouldn't. It is creepy and bad and few be excited about it, and if you did, it would stop. 

Re FEC data, I'm cc'ing a superstar at our Center who has done amazing stuff with contribution data. It would be great if you guys could connect and see if there's a way to collaborate. 
On Mar 26, 2012, at 3:42 AM, Aaron Greenspan wrote:

Hello again,

It's been a few months since I last updated East Coast people on PlainSite, so here goes for round two.

I wanted to let you know that the efforts to put PACER data on PlainSite have been generally more successful than we anticipated. We now have DOJ, DHS, and GPO visitors daily looking at case information (which is great, but also slightly ironic in the last case), in addition to many requests by private parties and law firms. I've attached a current graph of our traffic as seen by Google. Integrating better with the Internet Archive and RECAP so that we can get more current (post-2008) cases is still on the todo list.

A few people have called or e-mailed asking for their cases to be removed from the internet; I've done my best to explain to them how difficult that is, and in a few cases (consistent with Carl's recommendation) I've added cases to our robots.txt file so that they aren't crawled (though of course pages that link to them still are, not sure there's much we can do there). We also put up a policy for people to reference here: http://www.plainsite.org/contact/information.html

The fact that we're seeing so much usage of case data by government agencies made me wonder if it might be useful to researchers or the public at large to publish the server logs of who in the government is actually looking for and using this data. The requests come from a wide variety of agencies, and as a government transparency site I think it would be consistent with the site's goals. But it might also anger some bureaucrats, especially because search strings are in the logs--which is why they might be interesting. (Lawyers, is there any expectation of privacy when government employees search for public information on a free site? My gut says "no," but I want to make sure...)

Lots of companies and PACs are now indexed on the Flashlight page at http://www.plainsite.org/flashlight, along with their cases, lawyers, and political donations. Unfortunately, IRS and FEC provide their PAC donation data in totally different formats at different intervals, so for now it's just data from the IRS (which is in terrible shape between duplicates and misspellings).

We haven't been as successful yet in the issue-based realm where we started, which might be because the site doesn't really offer a concrete way to ensure feedback to politicians. Along with some features specifically for legal professionals, that's on the todo list, too.

Hope all is well. Feedback is always welcome. Thanks to Eric, Ying and Sabeel for their support with coding and ideas.


Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership
Harvard Law School
1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
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