Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. government entities have poured in at historic rates in recent years. In fact, government agencies received a record-high 928,353 FOIA requests in 2022.
But it’s not just the soaring volume of FOIA requests that’s tying up agencies. It’s also the complexity of these requests. According to a 2022 GAO report, “the number of complex requests processed rose for every agency, except EPA” between 2012 and 2020. USDA officials noted that a lot of these requests required consultations with other federal agencies, which increased the time it took to review and process them.
Let that sink in: every government agency surveyed, except for one, is processing a greater number of complex FOIA requests than ever before.
Needless to say, many public agencies are struggling to corral the growing volume — and complexity — of FOIA requests. Government agencies are facing mounting pressure to fulfill FOIA duties, including logging requests, searching for relevant records, analyzing them for disclosure, applying for exemptions, and communicating with requesters.
And the stakes are high. When a government agency receives a FOIA request, it must respond within a specified time frame (typically 20 days). If an agency needs an extension to collect requested records or consult with other agencies, the requester must be notified in writing. If the agency fails to meet these obligations, the requestor can file a lawsuit in federal court. Failure to comply in a timely fashion can also result in costly sanctions and reputational damage, among other consequences.
5 Reasons to Use eDiscovery Software for FOIA Requests
As some agencies have recently learned, a modern eDiscovery platform such as Casepoint can offer the necessary features to help streamline FOIA response processes. Robust eDiscovery solutions offer an array of features that significantly expedite and enhance the FOIA request processing workflow. Given the similarities between managing FOIA requests and typical eDiscovery workflows, government agencies can stand to gain a great deal from such platforms.
Here are five of the most important ways an eDiscovery solution can help agencies process FOIA requests:
1. Centralized Collaboration
Collaboration is essential for efficient FOIA request processing, especially when multiple agencies are involved. eDiscovery platforms provide a single, secure environment for collaboration — enabling both intra-agency and inter-agency collaboration. This centralized approach simplifies communication, enhances information sharing, and promotes collaborative decision-making. By fostering a unified and transparent workflow, these platforms ensure the efficient and timely handling of FOIA requests.
2. Automated Collections and Search Functionalities
Modern, cloud-based eDiscovery platforms enable government agencies to efficiently locate responsive documents scattered across disparate systems and bring them all together. With automated collections and search functionalities, these platforms can swiftly identify relevant information, reducing the need for manual searches. Through intelligent indexing and metadata analysis, eDiscovery tools streamline the identification and retrieval of pertinent documents, empowering agencies to swiftly and accurately respond to FOIA requests.
3. Analytics and Artifical Intelligence
The ballooning amount of data involved in FOIA requests can easily overwhelm agencies, especially if they’re only equipped for manual document review. Advanced search and analysis capabilities — such as AI, natural language processing, and machine learning — help teams find relevant information faster. These tools can group and prioritize documents based on relevance and responsiveness, all but eliminating the need for manual labor. By harnessing the power of AI, government agencies can efficiently maneuver through vast volumes of data and extract critical insights while saving incalculable time and resources.
4. Automated Redactions
Redaction is the process of removing or obscuring sensitive information found in an original document or electronic data. The content that remains after redaction stays intact and maintains its context for legal and business purposes. Government agencies often need to redact information to protect sensitive information or protected information in response to FOIA requests. While some litigators use tools such as Adobe for redaction, they can be unreliable for making thorough redactions at scale.
eDiscovery platforms such as Casepoint offer automated redaction capabilities, enabling agencies to efficiently and accurately redact classified, sensitive, or protected information from documents. By leveraging advanced algorithms, these platforms ensure consistent and secure redaction — thus reducing the risk of human error and ensuring compliance with regulations. This automation not only expedites the declassification process but also keeps sensitive data as safe and secure as possible.
5. Audit Trail for Defensible Review
One of the lesser-known benefits of using an eDiscovery platform to process FOIA requests is the creation of an audit trail. An audit trail documents the entire FOIA request processing workflow. This comprehensive record captures each step of the review process, including data collection, search queries, document review, redactions, and final disclosure. The audit trail serves as a defensible record, ensuring accountability and transparency in the event of challenges or inquiries. By having a detailed audit trail, government agencies can demonstrate diligence and accuracy in FOIA request processing — thus building public trust and confidence.
Get a Handle on FOIA Today
As government agencies attempt to process FOIA requests more quickly and accurately — while upholding transparency and accountability — it’s critical for them to work smarter.
By leveraging eDiscovery platforms, public sector agencies can streamline workflows, automate time-consuming tasks, collaborate seamlessly, and ensure compliance with rapidly evolving regulations. Implementing these advanced solutions empowers agencies to fulfill FOIA obligations effectively — resulting in improved responsiveness, accuracy, and public satisfaction.
It’s important to note, however, that not all eDiscovery platforms are created equal. It’s critical that your solution offers robust security measures while enabling rapid deployment. This eliminates the need for costly infrastructure expenses and extensive system maintenance by agencies.
Notably, Casepoint was the first eDiscovery cloud solution to achieve both FedRAMP and StateRAMP Authorization to support its federal and state agency clients. Casepoint is also the only legal hold and eDiscovery cloud solution to reach Department of Defense Impact Level 5 (IL5). Casepoint continuously meets rigorous government security requirements with the support of its dedicated implementation team, client services team, and user adoption team.
This unmatched commitment to security is one of many reasons why leveraging Casepoint will help you protect your sensitive data, secure your accounts, strengthen your identity management, and streamline FOIA request processing like never before. If your agency isn’t already leveraging eDiscovery for FOIA, perhaps now’s the best time to consider making a change.
Download our whitepaper to see how a trusted partner can help government agencies overcome their biggest eDiscovery challenges.