Leveraging eDiscovery technology to improve the FOIA process

Last year, a ruling by U.S. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of New York emphasized the need for electronic discovery practices to be increasingly incorporated into the FOIA process. The suit was brought by the National Day Laborer Organization Network  against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency because although the government conducted searches – both manually and technology-assisted – and produced “tens of thousands of responsive records,” the plaintiffs said the searches were inadequate.

Judge Scheindlin said some of the agency searches were “extremely rigorous” while others were “woefully inadequate” or didn’t specify the search terms at all. Judge Scheindlen ruled that responses by the federal government to FOIA requests must include metadata and be in a searchable format. She also said that search details are critical to determining adequacy; therefore, government agencies should produce the search terms used in electronic searches and that searches should be conducted uniformly.

Although Judge Scheindlen later withdrew her opinion, saying “I do so because, as subsequent submissions have shown, that decision was not based on a full and developed record,” the case still demonstrates the importance of weaving consistent ediscovery practices into the FOIA process.

AINS’ new ediscovery add-on for FOIAXpress provides powerful document review tools that can track and manage the document collection and review process. eCase eDiscovery automatically removes duplicate documents and emails, thereby reducing the total number of documents to be reviewed by up to 70%. FOIA Officers can also compare similar and near-duplicate documents in a user-friendly side-by-side review pane. eCase eDiscovery also provides full text search and advanced search features such as stemming (variants of a root word), phonic searching (word that sound the same but are spelled differently), fuzzy searching (misspelled variations of a word), synonyms, and related words. Documents can be clustered based on similar relationships in text and concepts, which helps prioritize which documents need to be reviewed. You can call Chris at 301-670-2303 if you are interested in learning more.

How do you think the relationship between ediscovery and FOIA will continue to evolve?