A recent federal court decision, Nat. Day Laborer Org. Network v. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, 2011 WL 381625 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2011), has set the expectation that certain metadata is considered “responsive” in federal FOIA requests.
In this Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) action, a dispute arose regarding the proper format of production and, in particular, whether metadata was subject to production pursuant to plaintiffs’ FOIA requests. Following substantial analysis of the issue, the court held that “certain metadata is an integral or intrinsic part of an electronic record” and, as such, is “‘readily reproducible’ in the FOIA context.” (FOIA provides that “in making any record available to a person under this paragraph, an agency shall provide the record in any form or format requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format.”)
The court went on to describe the minimum metadata fields which should be considered reproducible and therefore should accompany any production electronically stored information (ESI) by the government:
1. Identifier: A unique production identifier (“UPI”) of the item.
2. File Name: The original name of the item or file when collected from the source custodian or system.
3. Custodian: The name of the custodian or source system from which the item was collected.
4. Source Device: The device from which the item was collected.
5. Source Path: The file path from the location from which the item was collected.
6. Production Path: The file path to the item produced from the production media.
7. Modified Date: The last modified date of the item when collected from the source custodian or system.
8. Modified Time: The last modified time of the item when collected from the source custodian or system.
9. Time Offset Value: The universal time offset of the item’s modified date and time based on the source system’s time zone and daylight savings time settings.
Why is this metadata decision important? Because it now puts a requirement on federal government agencies that they should be capturing and storing their ESI is ways that first capture the above noted ESI and second, insure that metadata is not inadvertently modified, for example when it is reviewed to determine its responsiveness to the FOIA request.
Federal government agencies deal with huge amounts of ESI on a daily basis and should have archiving systems already in place to insure ESI is captured and managed correctly per the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regulations. It now seems they need to relook at their ESI archiving systems to insure they can meet this new metadata requirement.