Quote of the day

“Why — in the age of the Internet — [does] the FBI [restrict] 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. Moreover, while finding a death notice for the second speaker — the informant — may be harder (assuming that he was not prominent), Googling also provides ready access to hundreds of websites collecting obituaries from all over the country, any one of which might resolve that speaker’s status as well.”

D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick B. Garland introducing the FBI to a wonderful new investigative tool.

The judge was deciding a case involving four audiotapes recorded more than twenty-five years ago during an FBI corruption investigation in Louisiana. The plaintiff, an author, had sought release of the tapes under the Freedom of Information Act . There are two speakers on the tapes, one a “prominent individual” who was a subject of the FBI’s investigation, and the other an “undercover informant” in that investigation. The nub of the appeal was whether the FBI had undertaken reasonable steps to determine whether the speakers are now dead, in which event the privacy interests weighing against release would be diminished.

The FBI claimed that it had not been able to determine whether either speaker is dead or alive. It said further that it could not determine whether the speakers were over 100 years old (and thus presumed dead under FBI practice), because neither mentioned his birth date during the conversations that were surreptitiously recorded. It said that it could not determine whether the speakers were dead by referring to a Social Security database, because neither announced his social security number during the conversations. And it declined to search its own files for the speakers’ birth dates or social security numbers, because that is not its practice. “The Bureau”, said the judge acidly, “does not appear to have contemplated other ways of determining whether the speakers are dead, such as Googling them.”

And in a footnote, he helpfully points to the OED definition of “googling”.

Thanks to GMSV for the link.