August 4, 1995
Secretary Ronald H. Brown
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th Street and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20230
Dear Secretary Brown:
You will find enclosed letters that were sent today to Chairman Levitt of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commissioner Lehman of the Patent and Trademark Office. For the past 19 months, the non-profit Internet Multicasting Service has posted SEC and Patent electronic documents on the Internet, providing over 4.7 million documents free of charge to the American public. Over 20,000 documents per day are distributed through this "information safety valve," the only readily available public source for these key government databases.
On October 1, we will terminate this service. As a public service, our small non-profit, with corporate contributions, a National Science Foundation grant, and a joint venture with New York University, undertook this demonstration project. We wanted to show that there is a cost-effective, secure, technically effective way to get large government databases distributed to the American public. The project has clearly succeeded.
Our users range from college students looking for jobs to corporate engineers to senior citizen investment clubs to workers trying to track their mutual funds. The two-year demonstration project ends October 1, and we are concerned that neither the SEC nor the Patent office have taken any steps to ensure that a public source of data remains available.
Under the leadership of both Congressional Republicans and the Clinton Administration, the Congress and the President recently passed the Paperwork Reduction Act. This law makes it an obligation of agencies to ensure that their information be made available in an equitable manner to all citizens with a diversity of public and private sources.
On October 1, there will be no diversity and no equitable access. Let me give you a concrete example. Microsoft's annual report for 1994 is available on our system at no charge to the user. The largest commercial source for this data, Lexis-Nexis, sells the same document for $622. We certainly defend their right to sell documents at any price: that's the American way. But, it is only common sense that there must be alternate sources available for such important public information.
The SEC and Patent documents are basic enabling documents for our information economy. The purpose of the public disclosure requirements in the SEC Acts of 1933 and 1934 is to guide investment dollars to the right portions of our marketplace. The very purpose of our Patent system is to encourage the rapid growth of technology and science by documenting the state of our knowledge. These databases are not products or profit centers, they are the very fuel of our information economy.
This issue is clearly nonpartisan. The Clinton Administration has repeatedly praised our efforts, calling the Patent project "a big win for the American public" and the SEC project "an Administration priority." The Contract with America made equitable and timely distribution of government information a priority. President Clinton, on the bill's signing, remarked on the fact that there was not a single dissenting voice in Congress for this important piece of legislation!
This issue is a key test of our resolve to build a National Information Infrastructure. Will the remarkable advances in of our public policy towards new technology in the past 2 years turn into something real, or will the efforts of a few government bureaucrats block change? Will the new law be turned into an empty symbol of what might have been? Will public information become truly public or will we continue to auction America's databases to the highest bidder?
I hope you will take steps to ensure that the public is able to maintain access to these key databases in an equitable and timely manner.