Sacramento District Attorney needs $6000 to Search for Words in Email

The Sacra­men­to Dis­trict Attorney’s office wants to charge $6,511.06 to con­duct a key­word search through their inter­nal email sys­tem and to count the num­ber of peo­ple it charged with crimes this year.

Email Text Searches Are Not That Expensive

The DA’s office respond­ed to a Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Records Act request from Octo­ber by not releas­ing a sin­gle doc­u­ment. Out of eight cat­e­gories of doc­u­ments request­ed, the DA respond­ed by say­ing either the search was not respon­sive, that some exemp­tion applied, or that the cost to search would be too bur­den­some and that FOIA HORSE would have to pay for the cost itself before the search could take place.

This is what the DA’s office believes is required to search for a word or phrase in an email:

Emails uti­liz­ing Dis­trict Attor­ney accounts are stored both on employ­ees’ com­put­ers and to a lim­it­ed degree can also be retrieved from stored retained emails. If you desire a search and pro­duc­tion of stored retained emails, we may have to pur­chase soft­ware and then design a pro­gram that would retrieve the emails respon­sive to your request.

FOIA HORSE request­ed an esti­mate of the cost to con­duct just such a search, offer­ing to pro­vide a list of key­words to help in the cre­ation of an esti­mate. The DA’s response:

With regards to your request (j), this one is much more com­plex. You have not fur­ther iden­ti­fied the spe­cif­ic search terms sought for your inquiry, so based on your pre­vi­ous request, I asked our IT Depart­ment for the cost to con­duct a search of emails from Jan­u­ary 1, 2016 through Decem­ber 31, 2016, for the term “home­less­ness” in any com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the fol­low­ing spec­i­fied per­sons or agen­cies: [list of agen­cies omit­ted for space]. It is esti­mat­ed that this search would take approx­i­mate­ly 80 hours for an IT Ana­lyst 2, at a cost of $6,246.40. Fur­ther­more, the domain name would be required for each of the agen­cies.

That comes to $78.08 per hour. This is effec­tive­ly a com­plete denial of the request. The denial is fur­ther com­pound­ed by the fact that, even if FOIA HORSE paid for the search, search­ing alone does not nec­es­sar­i­ly guar­an­tee that FOIA HORSE will receive any of the emails that are respon­sive:

Please note that any cor­re­spon­dence that is locat­ed would have to be reviewed to deter­mine if an exemp­tion would pro­hib­it dis­clo­sure.

Giv­en the agency’s demon­strat­ed reluc­tance to release any doc­u­ment what­so­ev­er, it seems unlike­ly that any such search would yield a sig­nif­i­cant release of doc­u­ments. Fre­quent­ly, gov­ern­ment agen­cies try­ing to com­ply with the min­i­mum stan­dards that trans­paren­cy laws require while not per­form­ing any mean­ing­ful search­es or pro­vid­ing any real doc­u­ments will release email chains. Here, the DA’s office will not even per­form what oth­er agen­cies treat as the min­i­mum accept­able stan­dard for the Pub­lic Records Act.

How Many People Did We Charge? Nobody Knows.

FOIA HORSE asked for the num­ber of arrestees whom the DA’s office even­tu­al­ly charged with crimes in 2016. How­ev­er, the office does not count the num­ber of peo­ple they charge with crimes. They offered to “run a report from [their] com­put­er­ized case man­age­ment sys­tem of cas­es sub­mit­ted to [the] office for the iden­ti­fied time peri­od in which crim­i­nal charges were filed.” The esti­mat­ed cost to run this report was $264.66 for three hours spent by a Senior IT Ana­lyst, which amounts to $88.22 per hour. The DA’s office did not pro­vide a rea­son for the search being con­duct­ed by a senior mem­ber of the IT team, nor did it state why this search required a dif­fer­ent lev­el ana­lyst from that required by the email search.

What Do Words Mean?

Final­ly, in a Her­culean effort to not release a sin­gle doc­u­ment respond­ing to any of FOIA HORSE’s requests, the DA’s office stat­ed that in response to a request for “[a]udit doc­u­ments, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to audits of the sys­tem, mis­use reports, and reports to over­sight bod­ies,” they had no idea what FOIA HORSE was talk­ing about. Two lines above, the request asked about train­ing pro­grams and poli­cies relat­ing to the DA’s office’s inter­ac­tions with home­less defen­dants. The DA’s response:

You have not defined what you mean by ‘audit doc­u­ments’ or any of the oth­er terms you have men­tioned, which are sub­ject to var­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions. More­over, you have not iden­ti­fied a time frame for your request. We are unable to respond with the infor­ma­tion you have pro­vid­ed as we are not able to deter­mine what you are seek­ing.

Mer­ri­am-Web­ster defines audit as “a method­i­cal exam­i­na­tion and review.”

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