Clearwell, NDLON v. ICE, and the Pavlik-Keenan Declaration

by Aaref Hilaly on April 15th, 2011

On February 21, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filed a declaration as part of its ongoing case with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). That declaration, written by Ms. Pavlik-Keenan, made references to Clearwell that have since been selectively quoted and commented on by several of our competitors. Essentially, these competitors have tried to exploit the declaration and use it in a way which was not intended by ICE.

We realized on reading the Pavlik-Keenan Declaration (PK Declaration) that it contained many mis-statements. Until now, we have not responded publicly because this is an ongoing legal matter involving one of our customers, and we do not want to weaken ICE’s stated position. We also felt that, rather than speak out ourselves, it was more appropriate to approach ICE and ask for its help in correcting the public record. That process is ongoing, but there are now new documents from ICE in the public domain which correct some of the mis-statements in the PK Declaration. This blog post is based on information from these new documents.

When reading the PK Declaration, there are 4 important considerations to keep in mind:

#1: NDLON vs. ICE is a precedent-setting case

This is bleeding-edge stuff. The issue here is whether metadata is part of the public record and therefore discoverable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Judge Scheindlin says it is; ICE disagrees and is opposing her order to produce it. This is a grey area because the standards for FOIA are quite different from those for electronic discovery. Unlike with litigation, FOIA requests are governed by 9 exemptions which are designed to protect private information from being released to the public, and not by the FRCP. Should government agencies now be required to provide metadata, then they must redact that metadata to remove information covered by these 9 exemptions, which (according to the government) is difficult and expensive to do. To our knowledge, it’s also something that has hardly ever been done before, because people generally don’t redact metadata in a load file. So, prior to Clearwell’s use in this case, e-discovery products have typically not been used in this way.

#2: A declaration is an advocacy document, not a ruling from a judge.

This means the PK Declaration is designed to argue a point of view based on personal opinion, not be a statement of fact or legal conclusion. The stakes for the government in this matter are very high, since there are potentially thousands of FOIA requests which could be impacted by Judge Scheindlin’s ruling. So ICE has every incentive to argue forcefully that, whatever technology is used, the resources needed make it excessively expensive to comply with the court’s order. It just so happens that the technology used in this particular case is Clearwell.

#3: The PK Declaration is factually incorrect in several important areas.

There are many statements in the PK Declaration which are – quite simply – not true. To give 2 specific examples from the document:

A. Claim in PK Declaration: 11. … OPLA [Office of the Principal Legal Advisor] estimates that it was forced to expend more than $270,000.00 in upgrades, including the acquisition of a new $32,000.00 server, during this period in order to have access to and run the application.

A. Fact: Neither OPLA nor any other part of ICE paid a dime for upgrades or a new server. In reality, its use of the product for this matter is covered under ICE’s existing license, and we provided an extra server and services for free to help them meet a tight deadline. Clearwell’s “re-usable” license is specifically designed to allow customers to deal with unexpected cases at no incremental software cost, which is what happened here.

B. Claim in PK Declaration: 19. … ICE has been advised by the software vendor that ICE’s software, as it currently exists, cannot produce a “load file” that is compatible with Concordance 8X and/or Opticon 3X.

B. Fact: There are many customers using Clearwell today to produce “load files” for any of several industry leading formats in its export/production options, including Concordance, Summation, EDRM XML and Opticon. Clearwell also offers “Configurable Templates” to produce in any form that is requested.

To address these inaccuracies, on April 11, 2011, the US Attorneys’ Office took the highly unusual step of filing a supplementary declaration to (in their words) “clarify” its earlier statements. In the newly filed Document 86, Declaration of Ryan Law, it states:

6. … “the $270,000.00, which includes $32,000.00 for acquisition of a new server, has not yet been spent. … Clearwell loaned a new server to ICE for the duration of the January 17, 2011 production.”

7. … “ICE was not stating that Clearwell does not allow for the production of such a load file, just that ICE cannot do it with its current software.” All that’s required is a configuration file.

In addition to specific statements, such as those listed above which are now being clarified, the PK Declaration also makes broad generalizations about Clearwell which are untrue. ICE has released new information to address the most widely circulated of these:

C. Claim in PK Declaration: 14. … the agency should abandon the Clearwell application and discontinue its use.

C. Fact: ICE is a happy Clearwell customer who regularly takes reference calls on our behalf from other Federal agencies. As evidence of this, on April 8, 2011 (i.e., 6 weeks after the PK Declaration was filed), the contracting officer at ICE issued a letter (referenced in Document 86) which states that Clearwell “meets the government’s needs and performed in a satisfactory manner. As a result…ICE exercised the option (effective September 23, 2010) to extend the term of the contract through September 22, 2011.” You can read more about this in today’s press release.

#4: The PK Declaration misrepresents how Clearwell is being used at ICE.

ICE purchased Clearwell in 2009 for use by OPLA (Office of Principal Legal Advisor) on civil litigation matters. FOIA requests are handled by a different department with whom we had no contact until, without our knowledge, ICE FOIA decided to borrow Clearwell from ICE OPLA to respond to the FOIA request from NDLON in December 2010. In 16 working days, Clearwell was used to process a large volume of information and produce nearly 15,000 pages of Opt-Out Records (Document 79, Filed 3/30/11, Declaration by Sarahi Uribe). To help ICE meet its deadline, two Clearwell consultants worked onsite during this period – at absolutely no cost to ICE.

Much of this is recounted in the first Declaration of Ryan Law (Document 68, Filed 3/23/11), in the section entitled “Description of Events that Led to the Use of Clearwell”. I draw from that document below:

21: I [Ryan Day] consulted with other program offices within ICE and determined that using the e-discovery platform “Clearwell”, which is owned by the ICE Office of the Principal Counsel (“OPLA”), would offer the best chance for the Agency to meet its court-ordered disclosure requirement.

24: Clearwell was not obtained by ICE for FOIA applications. During the three-year application procurement and development process, OPLA did not take FOIA needs into consideration in determining the relevant capabilities the application would require.

26: At the time of the Court’s December 9, 2010 order, the Clearwell application was untested and was not yet approved for use. At that time, OPLA was in the beginning stages of establishing protocols for the use of the software and had originally anticipated a pilot phase of testing to begin in February or March 2011.

27: ICE OPLA was able to deploy Clearwell on December 20, 2011 for use by the FOIA Office on a provisional basis specifically to meet the January 17, 2011 deadline imposed for the production of records responsive to the Plaintiff’s request for “opt-out” records.


There is still a lot that we cannot say publicly about the PK Declaration, out of respect for ICE (our customer) who’s engaged in active litigation. But we would be happy to provide further information to concerned parties under NDA.

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