How eDiscovery Tools Benefit FOIA Requests
Any agency managing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests knows that the process—from start to finish—is not an easy one. Because these requests center around confidential information, security is of the utmost importance and must be inherent throughout the lifecycle. In addition to containing sensitive information and risk for leaking confidential government information to the public, they also appear in droves. In the last three fiscal years, federal agencies have processed over 2.4 million requests—over 800,000 requests each year. Backlogs have decreased slightly, yet FOIA requests seem to present a strenuous workload with no end in sight.
Why are FOIA requests such a tedious job?
Beyond the sheer volume of requests (which are added on to an agency’s regular workload), their complex requirements can be difficult to meet, especially within the twenty-day turnaround deadline. According to data provided by FOIA.gov, 26% of requests (about 204,000) received no response in 2020, which the government stated occurs when the requested information is not able to be found or has been backlogged.
To produce a FOIA request response, thousands, if not millions of documents (and their metadata) must be sifted through to identify pertinent information and ensure the exclusion of confidential information. Many of these documents come in different formats and have been scanned at low quality, ultimately reducing the efficacy of manual review and bulk search. Plus, there are always a hefty number of redactions, which take a lot of time to find and exclude correctly.
How can eDiscovery tools help?
eDiscovery applications were designed as a solution to these specific problems: collection tools gather all the necessary data across various sources and formats, review tools standardize and sort them into more easily digestible sets, analytics tools help uncover the story within the data and ensure identification of similar content, and production tools package the data into the desired formats for delivery. Compared to manual review, eDiscovery tools provide for a faster, more accurate, more secure, and automated review. To save time, effort, and cost, using a collection of eDiscovery tools for completing FOIA requests proves to be highly advantageous to all FOIA-handling agencies.
eDiscovery tools can:
- Identify responsive/nonresponsive documents
- Automate PII identification and redaction
- Organize data by timeframes, terms, categories, themes, and contracts
- Analyze paper documents, email, social media, video, audio, and other data types
- Use advanced search functionality to find key data
- Mass edit and tag
- Apply exemptions defensibly
- Review privilege and exemptions
- Quickly ingest and OCR a large variety of file types
- View text and metadata at the same time without spoliation
- Identify near-duplicates and exact duplicates, then deduplicate to reduce workload
- Log and track documents
- Create multiple productions for varied requests
- Reuse work product to save time and effort
- Create reports to show responsiveness, privilege, exemptions.
- Batch by custodian or saved searches
- Analyze related terms, sentiment, and relationships
- Identify and translate languages
eDiscovery tools are precise, fast, and have more advanced capabilities than manual handling. They reduce appeals, attorney fees, and other litigation costs, all while improving the FOIA experience for both federal agencies and the public. eDiscovery processes and software are a necessary addition to FOIA management to ultimately reduce the backlog and deliver information securely. To see what tools we have available for handling FOIA requests, check out our suite of technology.