eDiscovery Software for Government
eDiscovery software has transformed the way the document review process is facilitated by the legal industry and corporate organizations. The same goes for federal, state, and even local government agencies. With the huge, complex volumes of data and the increasing stream of requests, governments need reliable legal technology solutions to help with balancing public transparency, statutory public requirements, and more.
There are also several developments that have disrupted the usage of eDiscovery for government agencies, such as the proliferation of cloud computing, the expanding variety of audio/visual content, and the massive growth of discoverable data. In this article, we will take you through these disruptors and how government can manage these.
The Need for an Automated FOIA Solution in Government Agencies
Any government agency responsible for handling FOIA requests needs the records to be accurate, complete, secure, and quickly accessible. The more precise their record sets, the simpler the process will be. An eDiscovery software such as Casepoint can help simplify the search process for relevant records.
A key element of an eDiscovery solution is detailed analytics. It should be capable of using previous text analysis to identify relevant content. It should also be capable of redacting data. Most of the data redacted by the government is Personally Identifiable Information (PII). A solution that helps locate these records and redact exempt materials is beneficial for the FOIA office.
Here are some of the benefits government agencies will realize when leveraging key eDiscovery features:
Automated FOIA request solutions can help government agencies determine whether or not a specific document pertains to what the request demands. It should also be able to review the documents and make necessary redactions. A FOIA software solution such as Casepoint will help streamline the entire process and report outside entities of the same. It has the capability to process and produce documents after the review has been completed.
Easily Determine If Documents Meet the Needs of the FOIA Request
The keyword search capabilities of a government eDiscovery software can be a Godsend. One keyword search will uncover many relevant documents. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Powerful government investigation and eDiscovery solutions offer advanced search capabilities, enabling you to search by names, phone numbers, email addresses, residential addresses, words, phrases, and more. Once all the documents have been digitized and there is a central interface for receiving FOIA requests, the whole process becomes a breeze.
Reduce the Clutter and Get the Most Relevant Documents to Citizens
Data management becomes easier when you have structured data in a single place. With a FOIA software solution, government agencies won’t have to refer to different files stored in different folders in geographically different locations. Within minutes, the request will be processed, the case will be reviewed, and the documents will be released.
Review, Track, and Manage Case Activities
Having an automated FOIA requests solution will help government agencies reduce the time they spend on paper-based FOIA requests. Since everything is digitized, it is also easily searchable. The solution additionally simplifies the management of files across different departments. Moreover, it enables better communication with staff to cut the time spent on responding to the request.
Cut Down the Time Spent on Handling Paper-Based FOIA Requests
The FOIA solution also makes it easier for citizens to submit their requests online. They won’t have to visit the agency’s office anymore. They can also track their application status online and stay up-to-date on everything. Many modern government investigation and eDiscovery solutions have a request processing and tracking feature. It will benefit your staff as well, as they won’t have to spend hours answering phone calls and updating citizens about their FOIA request applications.
Simplify the Process of Submitting and Tracking FOIA Requests
The right FOIA solution should be able to handle complex cases with large-scale volumes of data. With this capability, government agencies will be able to scan, import, produce, and deduplicate the documents required for the request. After the documents have been properly reviewed and redacted, it should be able to deliver the final version to the requester.
Handle Large-Scale Volumes of Data
It is important for the FOIA request solution to be flexible enough to meet the demands of the ever-growing database. It should have an open architecture that enables the growth of the database either manually or automatically. The automated process will receive, scan, and tag the new documents.
Expand the Data Pool
Government Public Record Request Requirements
All government public requests must be processed by federal agencies within 20 business days. In case of unusual circumstances, the agency gets 10 additional business days. These circumstances can be:
- If the request requires the agency to find, organize, and redact a larger-than-normal volume of data.
- If the request requires information from other field offices.
- If the request requires the federal agency to consult with another agency.
Under normal circumstances, 20–30 days to process the request is enough. However, in complex cases, it becomes almost impossible. In fact, in 2021, the majority of the FOIA government records requests were delayed. It is crucial for federal agencies to address these challenges and speed up the process.
Automating Public Record Requests
With the overwhelming increase in the number of government records requests, it is important for federal agencies to take action. They need to address the pressing issues challenging them and implement the right solution. There are three main stages to consider:
In order to process the request, the agencies have to collect all the relevant information from different departments. Yes, human coordination can be time-consuming, and it can mean that the fulfillment of the request might take longer. But, it is important to ensure that all the relevant information is gathered.
Finding the Information
Next, all private or sensitive data must be redacted from the record before it is sent to the requester. Today, there are many powerful eDiscovery solutions that can help you with this and ensure that the redaction process is error-free. It will speed up the request processing time and reduce mistakes.
The requested information might be stored at different field offices and in different file types and formats. In the case of paper records, the applicable files must be sifted through. They have to make copies and sort through them for the redaction and review process. Next, they have to do the same with electronic records. Depending on the case, it might mean sorting through databases, emails, and other communication tools.
Dealing with different types of data formats can make the process even more complex. To deal with this challenge, federal agencies need a centralized database that stores the data. All the records must be stored and organized in a place that is secure and offers easy access.
Another challenge that federal agencies have to deal with is the high costs that come with processing these requests. There is a huge backlog of requests, which is only going to increase and is bound to put a strain on the budgets. Processing these requests manually is an undesirable and unsustainable situation. What they need to do is automate these requests, which will reduce not only costs but the complexities of processing requests as well.
Needless to say, an AI-based government eDiscovery software such as Casepoint, which can automate outdated government records request processing, is the solution. Through AI-driven data collection and redaction, along with automated workflows, the software will process the request in less time.
There are a lot of reasons why you need to investigate. These can be due to a business crisis or because of the results of the actions of an individual. There are certain steps that your organization can take that will impact the likelihood of the success of your investigation. It is crucial to determine the goal of the investigation as it frames the scope of the review. You should also draw up the terms of reference, which include the details of the investigation team. This team will be responsible for finding out what happened, how the findings will be reported, and the steps taken to remediate the issue.
Every individual in the investigation team should know that their assigned roles might develop over time. They will need a combination of skills to deal with this and decide how to conduct an internal investigation. There must be a team of lawyers on the team as it will help with legal professional privilege. You will also need some members from the IT, security, and operations teams. When you are choosing the members, make sure that there is no conflict of interest. If there is, consider third-party investigation services.
In the case of internal investigations, people should be informed only on a need-to-know basis. Even though internal written communication isn’t privileged, it should remain neutral. Your team must work under the assumption that everything written during the investigation will eventually become public. A small misstep might escalate the issue. In the case of legal advice, privilege should be maintained at each step.
When it comes to external communications, you should know the difference between the facts and your opinions about the facts. Start by asking if the person really needs to know your opinions on the facts and what they might do with this information.
In case of privileged matter, here is what you need to consider:
- Do you have to communicate the information to a third party? If yes, why?
- Can you separate the privileged and non-privileged data and communicate only the non-privileged information?
- Can you get a waiver of privilege?
It is your responsibility to ensure that client confidentiality is maintained. If you have to share the information, make sure that you redact or omit the confidential details.
Technology Disruptions in Government eDiscovery
Now, let’s get into the technology disruptors impacting the government records request processing:
A/V content can refer to social media, online video streaming sites, bodycams, operations center recordings, surveillance cameras, and more. The volume of A/V content increases every second. However, it is not the most challenging aspect of it. The diversity of A/V content formats is the one that needs the most attention. Thankfully, just like text analytics, cognitive engines are now using AI to identify voices, faces, objects, and even the sentiments of the speakers in audio and video recordings. Face detection, object detection, and analytics, in general, will play a crucial role in cloud eDiscovery for government agencies.
More and more government agencies are opting for cloud computing to replace legacy systems, consolidate data centers, and take advantage of the multitude of benefits the cloud has to offer. With respect to eDiscovery, the challenge arises when the data has to be transferred to and from the cloud. These challenges can include organizational restrictions on transferring a large volume of data and internet connection issues. However, even with these challenges, cloud-based government investigation and eDiscovery solutions continue to be used for the collection process. This is because the pros of cloud computing far outweigh the cons. With cloud based eDiscovery software for government agencies, you can streamline the entire process of responding to government records requests, including identification, collection, and preservation of information.
Thanks to A/V, there is even more data now. And a significant aspect of discovery requests is retaining the data, knowing where it is kept, how it is managed, and how it can be managed. Government agencies need an information governance plan to deal with the challenges brought on by Big Data. The Sedona Conference Commentary on Information Governance offers guidance for this.
The volume of data that government agencies have to deal with is continually evolving. The relevant data sources and datasets can change dramatically and quickly. This process has been complicated even more with the technology disruptors such as big data, cloud adoption, A/V, and more. It is important for these agencies to learn about these and stay on top of them to get an understanding of how they impact cloud eDiscovery for government agencies.