US Judge Provides Detailed Guide to Electronic Searches

27 August 2012

A federal judge in United States has provided a detailed examination of proper electronic search techniques in the freedom of information context.

The lengthy decision by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin came in the context of a request for agency records regarding immigration. She criticized the federal agencies involved for their search efforts, and provides an extensive discussion about what a good search should look like.

The judge from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued her decision on July 13 in the case of National Day Laborer Organizing Network v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, No. 10 Civ. 3488.

Describing the searches by the agencies, she wrote that some were “extremely rigorous, some woefully inadequate, and many simply documented with detail insufficient to permit proper evaluation.”

She ordered the parties to “work cooperatively to design and execute a small number of new, targeted searches.”

Her decision requires the agencies to provide detail on how they do searches, including such details as “search terms it used, how it combined them, and whether it searched the full text of the documents.” The judge also wrote about “emerging best practices” for searching electronically stored information.

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