EFF launches search tool for FOI documents

Want to know what the feds have been up to? Anyone with Internet access can now search through thousands of once-classified documents that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) "has pried loose from secretive government agencies" through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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Want to know what the feds have been up to? Anyone with Internet access can now search through thousands of once-classified documents that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) "has pried loose from secretive government agencies" through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

On Monday, the EFF announced a new search engine specifically designed for these documents.

The EFF FOIA Search Engine allows browsers to search for keywords, and narrow the search by topic and the government department that issued the paper. There are sorting options and a checkbox to search only "significant" documents.

"The documents relate to a wide range of cutting-edge technology issues and government policies that affect civil liberties and personal privacy,” said the EFF.

Some documents obtained under the FOIA cast light on several controversial government initiatives, the EFF has said, such as the FBI’s Investigative Data Warehouse and DCS 3000 surveillance program, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Targeting System and ADVISE data-mining project.

But the search engine, at least in its current beta form, doesn't handle phrases particularly well. A search for "Automated Targeting System" (an example used in the announcement, but I added the quotes) got no results. But a search for Automated Targeting System without quotes got 18 hits. Some of them had the phrase, but others just had the separate words.

The documents themselves are scanned hard copies, which isn't the most readable format. However, the text can be searched and somewhat clumsily copied. This is true even when a page didn't go through the scanner properly, resulting in a slanted image.

The announcement was timed for the start of Sunshine Week, a "national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information."