Next Generation Technologies Reduce FOIA Bottlenecks


Federal agencies are under more scrutiny to resolve issues with responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The Freedom of Information Act provides for the full disclosure of agency records and information to the public unless that information is exempted under clearly delineated statutory language. In conjunction with FOIA, the Privacy Act serves to safeguard public interest in informational privacy by delineating the duties and responsibilities of federal agencies that collect, store, and disseminate personal information about individuals. The procedures established ensure that the Department of Homeland Security fully satisfies its responsibility to the public to disclose departmental information while simultaneously safeguarding individual privacy.

In February of this year, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee opened a congressional review of executive branch compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The committee sent a six page letter to the Director of Information Policy at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Melanie Ann Pustay. In the letter, the committee questions why, based on a December 2012 survey, 62 of 99 government agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations and processes which was required by Attorney General Eric Holder in a 2009 memorandum. In fact the Attorney General’s own agency have not updated their regulations and processes since 2003.

The committee also pointed out that there are 83,000 FOIA request still outstanding as of the writing of the letter.

In fairness to the federal agencies, responding to a FOIA request can be time-consuming and expensive if technology and processes are not keeping up with increasing demands. Electronic content can be anywhere including email systems, SharePoint servers, file systems, and individual workstations. Because content is spread around and not usually centrally indexed, enterprise wide searches for content do not turn up all potentially responsive content. This means a much more manual, time consuming process to find relevant content is used.

There must be a better way…

New technology can address the collection problem of searching for relevant content across the many storage locations where electronically stored information (ESI) can reside. For example, an enterprise-wide search capability with “connectors” into every data repository, email, SharePoint, file systems, ECM systems, records management systems allows all content to be centrally indexed so that an enterprise wide keyword search will find all instances of content with those keywords present. A more powerful capability to look for is the ability to search on concepts, a far more accurate way to search for specific content. Searching for conceptually comparable content can speed up the collection process and drastically reduce the number of false positives in the results set while finding many more of the keyword deficient but conceptually responsive records. In conjunction with concept search, automated classification/categorization of data can reduce search time and raise accuracy.

The largest cost in responding to a FOIA request is in the review of all potentially relevant ESI found during collection. Another technology that can drastically reduce the problem of having to review thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of documents for relevancy and privacy currently used by attorneys for eDiscovery is Predictive Coding.

Predictive Coding is the process of applying machine learning and iterative supervised learning technology to automate document coding and prioritize review. This functionality dramatically expedites the actual review process while dramatically improving accuracy and reducing the risk of missing key documents. According to a RAND Institute for Civil Justice report published in 2012, document review cost savings of 80% can be expected using Predictive Coding technology.

With the increasing number of FOIA requests swamping agencies, agencies are hard pressed to catch up to their backlogs. The next generation technologies mentioned above can help agencies reduce their FOIA related costs while decreasing their response time.

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How easy is eDiscovery in SharePoint 2010?


There has been nagging questions surrounding SharePoint and its ability to allow complete and effective eDiscovery searches of all potentially responsive content in the repository. The below description is from the Microsoft Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Team Blog.

From the Microsoft blog:=================================================================

Hi everyone, I am Quentin Christensen and I work on document and records management functionality for SharePoint. Electronic discovery (commonly referred to as eDiscovery) is an area we are supporting with new set of capabilities in SharePoint Server 2010. In case you are not familiar with eDiscovery, it is the process of finding, preserving, analyzing and producing content in electronic formats as required by litigation or investigations. eDiscovery is an important concern for all of our customers and given that SharePoint has grown to be an integral part of collaboration, document, and records management for many organizations, we recognize the need to support the eDiscovery process for SharePoint content.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 included a hold feature that could be used for eDiscovery, but it was scoped to the Records Center site template. With SharePoint Server 2010 the eDiscovery capabilities have been greatly expanded to provide more functionality and the power to use these features across your entire SharePoint deployment.

In this post, I want to highlight three major improvements in SharePoint that support eDiscovery. You can:

  • Manage holds and conduct eDiscovery searches on any site collection
  • Use SharePoint Server Search or FAST Search for SharePoint out of box to search and process content
  • Automatically copy eDiscovery search results to a separate repository for further analysis

Read on to learn how SharePoint Server 2010 can support your eDiscovery initiatives and provide you with the tools you need to manage holds, identify, and collect SharePoint content.

The eDiscovery Process

The Electronic Discovery Reference Model from EDRM (edrm.net) provides an overview of the different parts of the eDiscovery process:

imageSharePoint Sever 2010 addresses the Information Management, Identification, Preservation and Collection stages. While this blog post will focus mostly on the identification, preservation and collection components, SharePoint provides a rich Information Management platform for Collaboration, Social Computing, Document Management and Records Management.  This means that you can take a proactive approach to eDiscovery by putting a governance framework in place and using appropriate disposition policies to expire content. Managing content and deleting it when it is no longer needed will reduce the amount of content that must be indexed and searched, and collected for eDiscovery.  The result is that eDiscovery costs can be dramatically reduced, changing the problem from finding a needle in a hay stack to finding a needle in a hay bale. Ultimately, the key to achieving legal compliance for eDiscovery obligations is built upon a foundation of robust Information Management.

When an eDiscovery event occurs, such as a receipt of complaint, discovery, or notice of potential legal claim, the identification stage begins. Content that may be subject to eDiscovery must be identified and searches are conducted to find that content. That content needs to be preserved and at some point, the content will be collected.

 

The eDiscovery Features

Hold and eDiscovery

Hold and eDiscovery is a site level feature that can be activated on any site.

imageActivating this feature creates a new category in Site Settings that provides links to Holds and Hold Reports lists. There is also a page to discover and hold content that allows you to search for content and add it to a hold. Once the Hold and eDiscovery feature is activated you can create holds and add to hold any content in the site collection. By default only Site Collection administrators have access to the Hold and eDiscovery pages. To give other users permission, add them to the permissions list for the Hold Reports and Holds lists. This will also give access to the Discover and hold content page.

clip_image005You can manually locate content in SharePoint and add it to a hold, or you can search for content and add the search results to a hold. With the Hold and eDiscovery feature you can create holds in the hold list and then manually add content to the relevant hold by clicking on Compliance Details from the drop down menu for individual items.

imageThen click on the link to Add/Remove from hold.

imageAnd you can select the relevant hold to add to or remove from.

imageBy manually adding an item to hold you will block editing and deletion of that item until it is released from hold. You will notice that the document now has a lock icon showing that it cannot be edited or deleted.

imageEach night a report for each hold is generated by a timer job. If you need a hold report faster you can manually run the Hold Processing and Reporting timer job in Central Administration.

Search and Process

You can manually add items to hold on any site collection, which is great. But that doesn’t help you find the content you don’t already know about. What if you have a large amount of items you want to find and add to a hold? For that you can use the features on the Discover and hold content page, which is a settings page in Site Settings. From this page you can specify a search query and then preview the results. The configured search service (SharePoint Search Server or FAST Search for SharePoint) will automatically be used. You can then select the option to keep items on hold in place so they cannot be edited or deleted, or if you have configured a Content Organizer Send to location in Central Administration you can have content copied to another site and placed on hold. You may want to create a separate records center site for a particular hold to store all content related to that hold. The Content Organizer is a new SharePoint Server 2010 feature based on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Document Router with richer functionality to automatically classify content based on Content Type or metadata properties. Look for a future blog post covering the Content Organizer.

Holding content in place is recommended if you want to leave content in the location is was created with all the rich context that SharePoint provides, while blocking deletion and editing of content. Be aware that this will prevent users from modifying items. If you prefer users to continue editing documents, then use the copy to another location approach.

When searching and processing, the search will by default be scoped to the entire Site Collection and run with elevated permissions so all content can be discovered. The search can be scoped to specific sites and you can also preview search results before adding the results to a hold. Items can be placed on multiple holds and compliance details will show all of the holds that are applied to an item.

imageIn summary, SharePoint Server 2010 contains key features that make it an essential aspect of your eDiscovery strategy. With the new SharePoint Server 2010 capabilities you can easily apply proper retention policies for all content and make it easier to discover content if an eDiscovery event occurs. eDiscovery often prescribes tight deadlines for production. SharePoint 2010 helps you find the right content and deliver it faster.

Quentin Christensen
Program Manager – Document and Records Management
Microsoft

eDiscovery ROI and ESI Archiving


The Cost of Collection:

Medium to large sized organizations are being driven to lower their overall litigation costs by bringing more of the eDiscovery processes in-house. To do this, organizations need to understand and proactively plan for the eDiscovery process. The most cost effective way to quickly lower eDiscovery costs are to prepare for the collection phase by putting in place an ESI archive to capture and manage those ESI silos that are most requested…Email, File System and SharePoint ESI.

The average cost to acquire all potentially responsive ESI from all corporate infrastructure locations including email servers, file shares, SharePoint systems, as well as from all custodian locations including desktop/laptops, local external storage devices, portable media such as USB thumb drives, CDs and DVDs in a defensible manner is between $1000 and $2000 per custodian discovered.

Realistically, the cost of eDiscovery can be reduced dramatically if your organization understands the eDiscovery process and proactively plans for it. Some areas to look at include:

  1. The number one way to reduce e-discovery expense (besides not getting sued/investigated) is having less data to collect/review
  2. Create, follow and enforce an ESI records retention policy to control legacy data including backup retention which should be in sync with the retention ESI retention policies
  3. Eliminate custodian PSTs. These little bombs are the biggest contributor to the cost of collection and review
  4. Develop and implement a litigation hold policy and have all custodians review and signoff on it
  5. For medium to large organizations, the most effective cost and risk reducer, besides reducing the amount of ESI in your organization, is to put a centrally managed ESI archive in place with centrally managed ESI retention policies. If, for example, you have an ESI archive which collects and manages your email data, file system data and your SharePoint data, the most requested ESI data types in discovery, then for those data types, you no longer have to search every custodian’s workstations, removable media, etc. A simple query of the archive will let you find, place legal holds, cull, review and export responsive ESI in a fraction of the time you normally take.

Can SharePoint be an effective eDiscovery Repository?


Microsoft positions SharePoint as a document and information sharing platform for companies. SharePoint Team Services provides templates for setting up a Web site so that workgroups can share documents, calendars, announcements, postings, host blogs and wikis among other things. SharePoint Portal Server is used to build intranet portals and share documents. The SharePoint system is a very powerful platform that will become a staple for most business entities.

One perceived problem with SharePoint adoption is that because a SharePoint system can contain so much information, some in the legal community aren’t sure if and how easy a SharePoint solution could be “discovered” and an even more important point, how data within the SharePoint system can be secured under a litigation hold.

With a little planning and an addition, a SharePoint solution can be an extremely valuable tool for your company as well as a litigation-ready eDiscovery repository.

The addition of an archive that can capture, index and secure all SharePoint data, not just the documents but everything, would remove the eDiscovery liability with a SharePoint system as well as drive down the costs and risks of eDiscovery.