650,000 EMAILS IN EIGHT DAYS?
One party is calling foul, the other is relieved, but it’s not only Hillary Clinton’s opponents who were asking how the FBI could have so quickly concluded, in eight days, that the further 650,000 uncovered emails do not alter the findings of its earlier investigation into the use of a private email server whilst Mrs Clinton was US Secretary of State.
For those not aware of the background, in July the FBI announced that, having investigated the use of a private email server whilst receiving and sending classified information as Secretary of State, that they found no evidence of criminality on the part of Mrs Clinton. Fast forward to the end of October, and the announcement that a further 650,000 emails of interest in the case had been discovered by the FBI as part of its investigation of an unrelated criminal case. Eight days later, however, the FBI again reiterated its earlier July conclusion. For many, though, the key question is, how is it possible that the FBI could have conducted sufficient analysis to reach that conclusion in as little as eight days? Although we do not know the rationale for the FBI reaching this conclusion, the fact is that the ability to review 650,000 emails in such a short period of time is not impossible for eDiscovery practitioners. Some of the key options available to the investigators would have included the following:
De-duplication: It’s reported that a number of the newly uncovered emails were duplicates of existing emails found elsewhere earlier in the investigation. Therefore, applying a simple de-duplication program across the 650,000 emails could have greatly reduced its population, eliminating these as emails requiring further consideration. Using processing software to identify the last email in an email thread also potentially reduces the number of emails for review.
Eliminating non-responsive emails: Applying simple name searches over the To:/From:/CC:/BCC: fields, including looking through distribution lists, as well as defining only certain time periods as relevant, could also reduce the number of responsive emails for review.
Search term application: Additional search terms could also have been identified and then used to further focus on relevant documents, and for the converse, to remove seemingly irrelevant emails.
Technology assisted review: And these days, it’s often the case that it is not humans having to read every line of every email, but computers applying analytical algorithms looking for common concepts across document content (a practice often referred to as predictive coding). This is also likely to reduce the final number of emails or other documents for manual review.
Therefore, to be able to conclude on the evidential value of 650,000 emails in eight days is now more than possible, given advances in review techniques and technology. Whether the FBI did look at each and every email is an entirely different question, and one only the FBI could answer.