Over the past decade, technology has reshaped the FOIA industry, affecting everything from the format of documents to the means by which those documents are reviewed and where documents are stored. Adapting processes to utilize technological advancements has enabled FOIA compliant agencies and offices to decrease response times and increase transparency, while becoming more efficient and more organized overall. In this blog post we will examine some of the technologies that have most recently emerged in the FOIA community including:
- FOIA case management systems
- eDiscovery technologies for voluminous requests
- FOIA portals
- Mobile FOIA
- FOIA in the Cloud
1. FOIA Case Management Systems: One of the first technologies that revolutionized FOIA processing was case management systems. These system have drastically changed the FOIA process and provided FOIA offices with a module that provides better organization and more efficient processing times. These modules incorporate all administrative actions taken during the processing of a FOIA and consolidated them on a single electronic platform. Request documents and information and all correspondence can be stored within these systems and requests can easily be reviewed by multiple FOIA processors. Requests are tracked and organized within the system and, in some case management systems, documents can even be uploaded, stored, reviewed, and redacted. FOIAXpress was one of the earliest available FOIA request systems and is the most widely use, predominant FOIA case management system in the federal government.
2. eDiscovery Technologies: To deal with voluminous records requests, AINS’ FOIAXpress system has a new optional module called Advanced Document Review (ADR) that leverages ediscovery technologies commonly used to manage enormous legal case documents. ADR was designed to assist agencies and offices weighed down by the increase in the number of complex requests for large email correspondence and large documents sets. ADR organizes and filters large document and email sets and reduces them to specific responsive documents via keywords “clustering,” categorization and de-duplication. This technology alone can reduce emails and electronic documents for review by up to 70%.
3. FOIA Web Portals: One of the mostly widely discussed emerging FOIA technologies is the idea and utilization of FOIA web portals. FOIA portals enable FOIA requesters to submit requests directly to agencies and offices via the Internet and enables the government to more have a direct line of communication through electronic means. FOIA portals are crucial to the goal of increased transparency and are a significant aspect of the Second Open Government National Action Plan for The United States of America, which was released in early December 2013. The need for government agencies and offices to adopt FOIA portals has been recognized by the Obama Administration and AINS has produced a free portal add-on to FOIAXpress. The FOIAXpress web portal increases the citizenry’s access to compliant federal agencies and offices and streamlines the process of providing that citizenry with information. The FOIAXpress portal also allows for proactive release of commonly requested documents in an electronic reading room.
4. Mobile FOIA: With the growing reliance on smartphones and tablets, work processes of every type are increasingly freed from desktop stations. To facilitate FOIA case management on-the-go, AINS offers FOIAXpress as a Mobile solution to allow FOIA case workers to securely check in on the status of their cases even when not at their desktop.
5. FOIA in the Cloud: Another FOIA technology that has recently emerged is the actual transition of FOIA software onto a cloud network. FOIA technologies and the data connected to those technologies is managed and stored on a cloud network. This transition to the cloud releases agencies from the using their own servers and digital space, as well as simplifying the task of implementation and maintenance of FOIA software. Additionally, hosted or software as a service solutions have financial savings, increased software speed, and ultimately enable agencies and offices to focus primarily on mission-critical objectives rather than IT details.
New and more powerful FOIA technologies will continue to emerge and assist compliant government agencies and offices with streamlining their FOIA systems. Existing and emerging technologies already greatly assist in the reduction of response times and increase transparency; however with new technologies come the need for new processes and a new type of FOIA processor and/or analyst. In the next blog in this series we will examine what a technologically driven FOIA process requires of the new age FOIA professional.