As we move towards the 50th anniversary of the US Freedom of Information Act, the FBI is being hit with a lawsuit that addresses how FOIA requests are handled. The lawsuit, filed by FOIA researcher Ryan Shapiro, alleges that the FBI deliberately uses their 21-year-old system to make finding the records difficult or impossible. The decades old Automated Case Support (ACS) system is worse than inadequate in searching for documents, and the FBI almost inherently refuses to use the newer Sentinel software that cost $425 million to develop.
According to FOIA law, government agencies are required to “make reasonable efforts to search for the records in electronic form or format.” If the requested document is found, the person who requested the document is to promptly receive a copy. This rarely happens.
In a conversation with The Guardian, Shapiro claims the system is set up in a way so FOIA requests are designed to fail. He points out how poorly the indexing by the ACS is done, resulting in a major number of documents being lost in the system. And, when the FBI employee uses the ACS to find the document being requested, only part of files are scanned.