Yes. The United States Supreme Court does that without notice, and a nifty piece of software has enabled the fact to be discovered:
The Supreme Court has long made surreptitious changes to its opinions without telling anyone. In response, a coder has created a tool that flags and publicizes those changes.
Supreme Court opinions are the law of the land, and so it’s a problem when the Justices change the words of the decisions without telling anyone. This happens on a regular basis, but fortunately a lawyer in Washington appears to have just found a solution.
The issue, as Adam Liptak explained in the New York Times, is that original statements by the Justices about everything from EPA policy to American Jewish communities, are disappearing from decisions — and being replaced by new language that says something entirely different. As you can imagine, this is a problem for lawyers, scholars, journalists and everyone else who relies on Supreme Court opinions.
Can the court forbid anyone to crawl the site in this way? Unlikely at present, as court decisions are in the public domain. Besides, if the Court moved to prevent crawling its Web site, another technology could provide constant comparisons with a mirror site in another jurisdiction.
The changes so far appear to be simply minor corrections. But some day, if not vigilantly watched, the practice of changes without notice could be used to alter significant portions of actual decisions. It would suit the philosophy of those who believe that there is no fixed reality anyway. Indeed, they would turn out to be right.
Note: Paper documents can be altered too, with historical ramifications, as the story in the vid below shows. The true story may only be accidentally discovered years later. The Internet hasn’t changed as much about the world as we think. It has broadened and deepened the problems, and speeded them up.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.