Does anyone else think it wasteful that the Palin e-mails released today pursuant to a long-pending FOIA request were distributed in hard copy? Here’s the Washington Post:
“The promise of potential news about Palin drew a deluge of reporters and other media employees to Alaska’s picturesque, isolated capital of Juneau, where state officials Friday prepared six sealed boxes of printed messages for each news organization that paid for the documents. Reporters fought for elevators in a mad rush out of the building to begin converting the documents into electronic form for perusal and publication.”
It used to be in litigation that discovery was kind of like today’s document dump. More senior lawyers still talk about how many documents are at issue in terms of how many “bankers’ boxes” of documents need to be reviewed. But more junior lawyers are accustomed to electronic review. Bankers’ boxes are largely a thing of the past in civil litigation. Why not in FOIA?
One difference between native-format disclosure and hard-copy disclosure is that native-format disclosure carries with it metadata (i.e., data about the data). Even if there were concerns about metadata (not sure what they might be, and not sure whether metadata is excluded from disclosure under FOIA), wouldn’t it have made more sense to scan the relevant e-mails and distribute electronic files? Sometimes it might make tactical sense to increase transaction costs for disclosures. But the costs here will not deter news organizations, so why not avoid the waste of so much paper and time?