Search Among Secrets: Separating the wheat from the buzzsaw

A fundamental assumption of nearly all information retrieval research is that content that should not be shown to the user should simply not be included in the collection that is indexed. This assumption breaks down, however, when it is not practical to separate what we want (the “wheat”) from what needs to be protected from disclosure (the “buzzsaw” that can ruin your day). In this talk, I will motivate the problem from four perspectives: multi-level security in enterprise search, scholarly access to personal papers in archival institutions, requests by citizens for access to government records, and withholding of privileged content in the “discovery” process that arises from civil litigation in some jurisdictions. For each of the last three cases, I will describe a research project that sheds some light on requirements, challenges, and capabilities. Iʼll then conclude the talk by offering thoughts on task design, evaluation design, and system design that may help to move us closer to being able to address this increasingly important grand hallenge of search among secrets.

Douglas Oard is a Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, with joint appointments in the College of Information Studies and the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. Dr. Oard earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. His research interests center around the use of emerging technologies to support information seeking by end users. Additional information is available at

Douglas W. Oard University of Maryland