March 3, 2011 – A federal court has ruled, for the first time, that the government must produce metadata if requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).    

We found this interesting piece of news on the Association of Corporate Counsel’s website in their article, “Government must furnish FOIA requesters with metadata.” This came from a court in New York City that sharply criticized the government for producing “static images stripped of all metadata and lumped together without any indication of where a record begins and ends.”

FOIA requires that if requested, federal agencies must make documents available “in any form or format requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format.” The plaintiffs in this case had specifically asked for the documents to be produced as separate files, with spreadsheets in their native electronic format. The agencies instead produced an unsearchable PDF document of indiscriminately merged records stripped of metadata.

The decision will provide a boost for FOIA requesters seeking production of electronic records in formats that permit searching, collating and other means of electronically sorting data. It also makes the creation, indexing and findability of metadata ever more important.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in thesaurus, ontology, and taxonomy creation and metadata application.