NBC News: Some U.S. government agencies are testing out AI to help fulfill public records requests (ft. Jason R. Baron)

INFO Staff - July 25, 2023

INFO Professor of the Practice Jason R. Baron spoke to NBC News about how AI could streamline massive amounts of public records requests

A recent NBC News article highlighted the initial efforts several federal agencies have taken in testing artificial intelligence tools to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  According to NBC News, the State Department, the Justice Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among a group of federal agencies that have been exploring the use of “machine-learning models and algorithms to help search for information in repositories holding billions of government records.”  


Jason R. Baron, a College of Information Science (INFO) Professor of the Practice, told NBC News that he helped test one of the prototypes, called “FOIA Assistant,” by annotating hundreds of White House documents from the Clinton Administration.  This tool, developed by the MITRE Corporation, locates records within large datasets and suggests redactions of information under at least three of the FOIA’s nine categories of exemptions, including for documents covered under the deliberative process privilege. (MITRE previously issued a press release that states that the FOIA Assistant tool was trained on a data set in collaboration with “a leading FOIA expert from the University of Maryland.”).  


NBC News quoted Professor Baron as stating that the tool is “not perfect”; however, “using this type of AI actually could be enormous help in the future when agencies routinely are finding tens or hundreds of thousands of potentially responsive records that they otherwise would have to review manually, a process that almost assuredly will take many years.”  Professor Baron was also quoted as saying that there is “no way for FOIA to work in the future unless you can automate searching of the millions, hundreds of millions, billions of records that these government agencies hold,” and that the “problem is simply unsolvable without AI.” 

Read the full article here. Written by Lewis Kamb for NBC News and published on August 1, 2023.