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Court: Government's Got to Google

Sometimes, the federal government has got to Google. This is the conclusion of an opinion today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Davis v. Department of Justice. Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy sets the stage, explaining that the case was brought by an author who sought release under the FOIA of FBI audiotapes from a quarter-century-old Louisiana corruption investigation. He tells what happened next:

"The FBI denied the request, citing the privacy interests of the taped individuals, but was unable to determine whether the taped individuals were still alive (or over 100, in which case they would be presumed dead under FBI practice)."

The trial court dismissed the FOIA complaint, but the circuit court reversed, finding that the FBI made no "reasonable effort to ascertain" whether the individuals were still alive. The court explained:

"[O]ne has to ask why -- in the age of the Internet -- the FBI restricts itself to a dead-tree source with a considerable time lag between death and publication, with limited utility for the FBI’s purpose, and with entries restricted to a small fraction of even the 'prominent and noteworthy'? Why, in short, doesn’t the FBI just Google the two names? Surely, in the Internet age, a 'reasonable alternative' for finding out whether a prominent person is dead is to use Google (or any other search engine) to find a report of that person’s death."

One also might ask why this case had to work its way to a federal appeals court before common sense could prevail over bureaucratic red tape.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 22, 2006 at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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