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Government IBM The Courts United States

Is The DOJ Using Obsolete Software To Subvert FOIA Requests? (theguardian.com) 85

"A new lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Department of Justice intentionally conducts inadequate searches of its records using a decades-old computer system when queried by citizens looking for records that should be available to the public," reports The Guardian. Slashdot reader Bruce66423 writes: An MIT PhD student has filed a suit in Federal court alleging that the use of a 21-year-old, IBM green screen controlled search software to search the Department of Justice databases...constitutes a deliberate failure to provide the data that should be being produced.
Ryan Shapiro's lawsuit alleges "failure by design," saying that the Justice Department records are inadequately indexed -- and that they fail to search the full text of their records when responding to requests "When few or no records are returned, Shapiro said, the FBI effectively responds 'sorry, we tried' without making use of the much more sophisticated search tools at the disposal of internal requestors." The FBI has a $425 million software system to handle FOIA requests, but refuses to use it, saying that would be "needlessly duplicative...and wasteful of Bureau resources."
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Is The DOJ Using Obsolete Software To Subvert FOIA Requests?

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  • by rfengr ( 910026 )
    Green screen........mellenials.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday July 17, 2016 @11:39AM (#52528383)

    More recently, the FBI’s own investigation into the September 11 attacks found that “[o]n September 11, 2001, the Bureau’s information technology was inadequate to support its counterterrorism mission”, noting further that “[t]he FBI’s legacy investigative information system, the Automated Case Support (ACS), was not very effective in identifying information or supporting investigations”.

    kinda bad when even you are on record as saying the system sucks.

  • Not only have the state of the art in searching normal databases not changed in the last 21 years (specialized cases like web searches excluded), the use of "green screens" rather than a web interface have nothing to do with the quality of searches - the _real_ complaint is that the full capabilities of the existing system isn't used!

  • Not a surprise- (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrate&gmail,com> on Sunday July 17, 2016 @12:04PM (#52528441)

    The DoJ is one of many departments these days that are run for the benefit of the of the administration, not to serve justice or even the American people.

  • Clever Grad Student (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZipK ( 1051658 ) on Sunday July 17, 2016 @01:12PM (#52528705)
    By requesting a search that should have netted his own earlier FOIA requests, and didn't, Ryan Shapiro was able to demonstrate the inadequacy of the index-term search the FBI is using. Clever.
    • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Sunday July 17, 2016 @03:03PM (#52529145)

      By requesting a search that should have netted his own earlier FOIA requests, and didn't, Ryan Shapiro was able to demonstrate the inadequacy of the index-term search the FBI is using. Clever.

      He'd better hope they don't decide to make an example of him and charge him under CFAA or some other law, regulation, or Act for exposing the inadequacy of a government computer system or something along those lines. It wouldn't even matter if they knew beforehand that they couldn't get a conviction, the process is the punishment.

      The Rule of Law is dead in the US. The "law" now depends on who you are, who you know (and what you know about them), and how much money and power you have.

      Strat

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        The Rule of Law is dead in the US.

        If I embraced this standard of discourse, I'd probably agree with you.

        But I don't. Your post is indistinguishable from FUD. That's a serious problem, regardless of the validity of your argument. Nothing is ever that pure. Not even pessimism or despair.

        • Actually the Rule of law is dead, its fairly obvious that this administration and its political appointees are going all in to keep the racist from becoming president by giving it to someone that was instrumental in putting more black men behind bars than any other person in history. You know the Gold's girl.
          HSBC comey and lynch, feel free to look it all up, they show up just in time to not prosecute AGAIN.

          BlueStrat is correct. He failed to say, The Rule of law is Dead unless your poor, then your
        • So, do you really have a coherent argument, or are you just gonna go full pseudo-philosopher here? Because the only thing I got from your post that's even faintly on-point is that the Rule of Law is only "mostly dead". And therefore could be resuscitated for a noble cause.

          You probably didn't mean that, though. You probably didn't mean anything.

  • But, but, but, they don't intend to break the law, so it is okay.

  • Clinton's emails? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chris453 ( 1092253 )
    One point that keeps getting lost on the whole Clinton email fiasco is FOIA requests. Shouldn't she be in jail for violating that law? She was running a private server that contained official government records subject to this Act. She controlled the information that could be "lost" or "not found" whenever she wanted. That was legal but this isnt?
  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@@@poetic...com> on Sunday July 17, 2016 @02:49PM (#52529095)

    Frequent posts from The Guardian and BBC cover important events in the US that local media fail to report. This should make us wonder why American news media aren't on top of these stories.

    Of course tight budgets constrain many traditional news outlets and restrict the ability to really investigate anything. The de-funding of Public Broadcasting was a disaster in American history, forcing a dependence on advertising and fund raising.

    But those of us who entertain conspiracy theories may suspect that the 'free press' in the US is heavily influenced by various pressures from government and advertisers. For instance, many media are now forbidden at Trump rallies because they have offended The Donald by asking serious questions. Some media are unwelcome at White House briefings. Your local city/state politicians also have preferred, cooperative, outlets for their announcements. Cooperation with big advertisers is also important for American media to survive financially. Evil Monsanto stories go on page 3 or nowhere at all.

    Most US publishers share with their readers the political posturing of government officials and the promotional 'news' of advertisers but fail to investigate anything. The remainder of US news is crime, weather, celebrities, a smattering of drama about terrorist activity, and no mention of large parts of the world like Latin America.

    So, thanks Guardian and BBC, for a fresh look at the world and my own country.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Do not think that the Guardian and The BBC did a lot of investigation in this. Most likely they picked it up from Reuters and it fitted in their package for whatever reason.

      The US will also have seen this, but they decided on NOT running the story.

      We all heard that you should never kill the messenger. What do you do when the messenger IS the bad guy?

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      Frequent posts from The Guardian and BBC cover important events in the US that local media fail to report. This should make us wonder why American news media aren't on top of these stories.

      One thing I'd suggest any American try: Find yourself a local broadcast of BBC America and listen to them interview someone. They actually follow-up their questions if the subject isn't answering, and if the subject is BS'ing will freely tell them so to their face. Its like reporters are supposed to be.

      The best is when they interview an American populist politician. One of those people who is used to spouting coded racist/classist language, or even flat out lies, without the interviewee calling them on it

  • by whit3 ( 318913 ) on Sunday July 17, 2016 @02:56PM (#52529125)
    The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires agencies of the federal government to honor "any request for records which. . . reasonably describes such records". So, if a description can be entered into a sophisticated search, that's the obvious way one would comply.

    The allegation is that only searches of an incomplete index are ever performed for FOIA purposes, and such searches are (1) archaic and unusual nowadays, (2) rarely find the requested material. That's more likely misfeasance than innocent.

    The DOJ is an agency that ought to find compliance with law of primary interest, and arguments of 'needlessly duplicative' ring false. The plaintiff's test was amusing: he asked DOJ to find his previous FOIA requests, and was told there was no record...

  • This isn't about the hardware. The most important aspect is that the FOI searches only look at an index hand-built by whatever person entered the record. There appears to be no full text search for these external requests. Internal requests take advantage of modern techniques. Public requests are limited, by design. Kudos for exposing this by well crafted requests. "We tried" is not sufficient.

  • by Fencepost ( 107992 ) on Sunday July 17, 2016 @03:47PM (#52529249) Journal
    It's a nice simple argument to make to a judge as well:

    "Your Honor, if you approved a subpoena for records and the response was 'We searched and found nothing responsive,' would you accept that response if you knew that the search consisted of nothing but looking at a list of filenames? After all, that's a search - a very poor one, but a search nonetheless."
  • This is the same Federal government that uses a mainframe system from the Kennedy administration in the 1960s to manage tax collection. If the USG can't upgrade a system that is responsible for its own core revenue generation, what makes you think they'll prioritize the FOIA system?
  • Hardly the green screen era for NEW software. Maybe the DOJ got their dinoware in 1997 but the sw is not from that year.

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