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17 FOIA Update 1 (1996)

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Information and Privacy

Vol. XVII, No. 1
    Winter 1996

                       FIA UPDATE

       Agencies Explore Use of Document

Imaging in Automated FOTA Processing

    In their administration of the Freedom of Information
Act, federal agencies are increasingly looking to the use of
document imaging and the potential of automated FOIA proc-
essing as a means of enhancing the efficiency and cost-
effectiveness of their operations. Rapid advances in docu-
ment-imaging technology in recent years have provided
strong impetus to such efforts at several agencies.
                 Document Imaging
    Document-imaging technology converts the information
contained in paper records into an electronic form. Once in
that form, the information can either be stored as images or
converted into text that can be searched and modified elec-
tronically at a computer terminal.
    The first step in the imaging process is to convert print-
ed material into digital form by using a document scanner.
This document capture is generally the most expensive
part of the process, but the costs have decreased with ad-
vances in imaging technology. The scanned images are then
stored on magnetic media or optical disks as part of an
imaging system. For imaging systems that require more ca-
pacity than a single optical disk or magnetic tape can accom-

      On Agency Practice

modate, the system can be configured to use robotic arms
that retrieve and activate the particular disk selected.
Images can be viewed on standard computer monitors, al-
though high-resolution monitors are available.
    The stored documents must be indexed for purposes of
retrieval. Users of the system can search the documents'
indexed elements or fields by entering key words or phrases
and then the system's search-and-retrieval software responds
with a list of documents that contain the element sought.
Portions of documents can be focused on individually in this
    As a general rule, electronic documents take much less
time to find, handle, refile, and route. They also can po-
tentially be processed for FOIA disclosure in an automat-
ed fashion, rather than by hand. This led federal agencies--
especially those with large-volume FOIA operations, such
as the Department of State and the Federal Bureau of In-
vestigation at the Department of Justice--to begin exploring

the use of this technology for FOIA purposes.
           Automated Processing at the FBI
    The FBI's program for automated FOIA processing is
being developed to include electronic tracking of requests
and records as well. By 1999, we will have an electronic
imaging system installed at FBI Headquarters and at all field
offices for the tracking and processing of information re-
quested under the FOIA and Privacy Act, predicts Kimberli
Jones-Holt, Project Manager for the FBI's FOIA/PA Docu-
ment Processing System. Using electronic imaging man-
agement, we can develop a methodology for tracking and
processing paper documents in an automated way from the
time a document is received by the FBI to its final dis-
position, she says.
    Automated FOIA processing is a vital part of the FBI's
plans for the development of its electronic information man-
agement systems. Several years ago, a preliminary proof-
of-concept system for automated processing was installed
in the FOIA/PA Section at FBI Headquarters. That applica-
tion was designed to demonstrate that document processors
could redact documents electronically, both quickly and
cleanly, if the right supporting system could be developed.
    That proved to be a groundbreaking FOIA application
for imaging technology. In 1993, when Justice Department
representatives of Vice President Gore's National Perform-
ance Review team were looking for possible projects to
sponsor that would use technology to make the federal
government more efficient and customer friendly, this FBI
automation project was identified as an excellent one for
increased funding and development.
    This led to the creation in 1994 of a National Perform-
ance Review FOIA Lab, a prototype electronic document
imaging system within the FBI's Information Resources
Division. See FOIA Update, Summer 1994, at 6. This
prototype system operates as a client-server environment,
with one server containing the imaging software and four
connected workstations at which document processors can
                                 Cont'd on next page

The four center pages of this issue of FOIA Update con-
tain an updated list of the principal FOIA administrative
and legal contacts at federal agencies.

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