Enacted in 1966 and taking effect the following year, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives any person the legal right to obtain access to police reports, federal agency records, and more, with the exception of those that contain protected information.
The role that FOIA plays is one of transparency and accountability, and while it’s incredibly important to the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, it can create a workflow strain for departments.
Since FOIA requests must be responded to within a certain number of days, LEAs can experience a heavy workload, particularly when it comes to redacting protected information like personally identifying data (PID) from multiple records. Fortunately, the right AI tools can help relieve this burden.
In this blog, we’ll discuss:
- What FOIA requests are
- The challenges LEAs face when processing FOIA requests
- How AI can help LEAs manage FOIA requests
What are FOIA requests?
FOIA requests are submissions to the federal government for records that are made publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act. These requests can be for any federal agency records, however there are some exceptions to safeguard sensitive and critical information.
According to HHS.gov, there are nine exceptions and three exclusions that can prevent you from obtaining records such as if the request pertains to:
- Classified national defense and foreign relations information
- Internal agency rules and practices.
- Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another law
The United States Department of Justice reported that in 2013, they received 70,081 FOIA requests. Under law, FOIA requests must be completed in 20 business days (unless an unusual circumstance arises, for which an extension can be granted). With the workload only increasing year over year, federal and law enforcement agencies alike are facing more challenges than ever before to fulfill FOIA requests in a timely and cost-effective manner.
What challenges do FOIA requests pose for LEAs?
Despite the FOIA’s demand for 20-business-day responses, in reality, the amount of work required to process and manage FOIA requests can take months to fulfill. Understandably, this delay and lack of consistency can have a negative impact on the public’s perceived trust in the department, when in reality it comes down to the sheer volume of work it takes to fulfill the request.
While FOIA requests play an important part in bridging the relationship between LEAs and communities, they can tack on an overwhelming amount of manhours to departments that are already juggling a heavy workload. Time is a precious, unrenewable commodity in government and law enforcement agencies—and the more complex a FOIA request is, the longer it takes for departments to fulfill.
There are many reasons why FOIA requests may take longer than usual, however, these are the most common:
- The request is routine but involves labor-intensive or time-consuming reports.
- The request is prompted by disruptive, large-scale events (i.e. major weather events, protests, civil unrest, or a pandemic).
- The request parameters are ambiguous or lack clarity.
- The request requires oversight from special management or other personnel which could tamper with the timeliness of the process.
Aside from the complexity of the nature of the FOIA request, departments also need to juggle several complexities involving the logistics of managing and resolving the request. Other hurdles to consider are the costs of resources, the number of people needed to be involved with the request, and how to stay compliant with various laws and policies, such as privacy laws or national security.
While technology with AI may not be able to remove all of these obstacles, it can most definitely assist with the cost of resources and help departments optimize their workflow despite hindrances.
Resolving requests can be costly, just by gathering the necessary materials alone, but even more so when dealing with tasks that need multiple hands on deck. For example, if a FOIA request was made to review police reports and body-worn camera footage during an incident involving multiple officers and suspects, the department’s task isn’t going to be as simple as searching for records and releasing video footage. The department may also need to work on each frame of video and second of audio to potentially redact protected information, and if there are multiple suspects, officers, and video sources involved, this could take a huge amount of hours to process.
The right AI technology can help human officers process data at a much faster rate, which leads to quicker turnaround times for FOIA requests, fewer man-hours needed to process the request, less stress placed on individual officers processing the data, and greater savings for the department as a whole.
How AI can affect FOIA
AI technology has the potential to transform the way LEAs respond to FOIA requests. When using the right products, AI can assist officers by automating simple yet tedious tasks that place strain on these individuals. Solutions, like Veritone Redact, are relieving officer stress, saving time and costs cross-functionally, and helping the public obtain records quicker.
Veritone has developed advanced AI technology including products like Redact, Contact, and Illuminate, that help public safety agencies respond more quickly and accurately to FOIA requests. With emphasis put on the importance of reducing officer strain and increasing cost and time efficiency, our dynamic products offer a promising solution for LEAs needing to complete these requests.
Our technology leverages AI-enabled cognitive engines that extract text from audio and video files, as well as automatically generating transcripts for those same files (a process that can take significantly longer when done manually). With this, digital evidence is then indexed so authorized requestors can easily search for records and information.
LEAs using Veritone products see significantly greater efficiency in responding to public records requests. This helps create a better relationship between these agencies and requestors, as well as reduces officer stress and department costs.