Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Internet Opens Audience to Sec Data

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Internet Opens Audience to Sec Data

Article excerpt

Some call it one of the government's "crown jewels," a vast computer database containing the secrets and dirty laundry of America's biggest corporations.

Wall Street firms, corporate lawyers and others pay an estimated $250 million a year to be wired into this information gathered by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government's watchdog for the business world.

Earlier this year, a wider public got its first chance for an easier look at a main source of this data - the commission's "Edgar" system. An experimental link was established between Edgar and the Internet, the network of thousands of government, university and corporate computers.

But not all approve of this link.

While regarded by some as an important means of allowing the public access to the data, others - including the SEC - say the Internet is not the best choice. Critics say Internet isn't always reliable and is obstructing efforts for broader distribution of Edgar.

"It's not like putting all of this stuff in electronic media will make it more accessible to Mom and Pop," said Thomas Vos, vice president of Bowne & Co., an electronic publishing firm in New York.

Edgar - which stands for Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval - was designed to automate the estimated 12 million pages of financial documents public companies are required to file each year with the SEC.

The SEC uses the annual reports, shareholder proxies and other forms filed by publicly held companies to police the financial markets and prevent investor fraud.

The Edgar system also was intended to "increase the efficiency and fairness in the securities markets" by allowing a means for quick distribution of corporate information.

After a three-year delay and a $20 million cost overrun, Edgar started this spring with 540 companies beginning mandatory electronic filing of documents. About 3,500 companies are on the system, and all 15,000 companies will be phased in by 1996.

By itself, Edgar would only be available to the public through one of the SEC's three public reference rooms, or if users had the money to pay for a direct computer feed to their home or business. …

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