eDiscovery technologies are proving to be powerful tools for improving internal records management and retrieval processes that serve to increase transparency into U.S. state and federal government agencies. And without a doubt, they’ve arrived not a moment too late. Legislative changes have increased administrative burdens on federal agencies and still a lot of agencies to this day are not equipped with the appropriate technologies to process the overload of FOIA requests. Modern eDiscovery software platforms can alleviate this burden and process FOIA requests in a fast and efficient manner.
Parties in lawsuits use eDiscovery tools such as advanced search capabilities, automation, and technology-assisted review to meet the challenges of collecting, searching, reviewing, and producing massive amounts of various types of decentralized documents and electronic records from multiple sources during the discovery process.
Government agency employees who prepare responses to Freedom of Information requests must perform much the same activities as those performed by attorneys during litigation. Both need to:
eDiscovery tools used during litigation are ideally suited to help government agency personnel perform these activities. And, eDiscovery technologies work with proven efficiency and accuracy that’s been demonstrated in the legal field for years.
Most officials in U.S. federal and state government agencies recognize that they need to improve their responsiveness to Freedom of Information requests.
It’s extremely difficult to argue otherwise. According to an Associated Press analysis, the federal government censored, withheld or said it couldn’t find records sought through FOIA requests more often last year than at any point in the past decade.
Some detractors offer these numbers as proof that government officials purposely try to withhold information about their activities so they can operate in secrecy. But we know that the real causes for numbers like these are not criminal in nature. Right from the start, agency personnel don’t have the adequate technology to collect, search for, or locate the information necessary to complete the response process.
The government’s own research shows that agencies don’t use effective methods to increase search precision. The startling conclusions of the National Security Archive and the Project on Government Oversight 2017 FOIA Search Survey reveal just how dire the need for improved search capabilities truly is:
The FOIA Advisory Committee appointed a Subcommittee on FOIA Searches, which looked at eDiscovery technologies currently in use by some agencies to better manage their search techniques. The Subcommittee was “impressed by the power of eDiscovery searches and hopeful that their use increases.”
In its January 16, 2018 Recommendations to the FOIA Advisory Committee, the Subcommittee said, “Agencies should increase as much as possible the use of eDiscovery tools to search for FOIA requests as much as appropriate and affordable.”
Of course, we agree with that recommendation. For a closer at look at how FOIA challenges are managed effectively with eDiscovery technologies, read the white paper, The Quest for a Transparent Government: 50 years of FOIA and Public Records Acts.