The FCC Is Blocking a Law Enforcement Investigation Into Net Neutrality Comment Fraud
In addition, the agency told me there was nothing it could do after someone hijacked my identity to claim I falsely supported killing net neutrality protections.
Dec 12 2017, 4:42pm
The FCC is blocking a law enforcement investigation into fraudulent comments designed to provide bogus support for the agency’s looming net neutrality repeal. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently announced his office has been conducting an investigation into who submitted millions of fraudulent comments (some using the identities of dead people) during the public comment period.
The FCC is already facing a lawsuit alleging the agency ignored FOIA requests pertaining to these fake comments. The agency similarly told me there was nothing it could do after someone hijacked my identity to claim I falsely supported killing net neutrality protections.
Detailed analysis of the record 22 million comments filed with the agency indicate the majority of the public overwhelmingly supports keeping the rules intact. But several analysts also found that some group or individual tried to counter this genuine opposition with fake support for the plan. Schneiderman’s office believes these comments were filed by a bot that pulled identities from a compromised database of some kind.
“We all have a powerful reason to hold accountable those who would steal Americans’ identities and assault the public’s right to be heard in government rulemaking”
According to Schneiderman, his office made nine attempts over a period of five months to obtain server logs, API key details, or other information that could aid his office’s investigation into the identity theft. But in a public letter to FCC boss Ajit Pai, Schneiderman noted that the agency simply refused to aid the investigation in any capacity whatsoever.
“We all have a powerful reason to hold accountable those who would steal Americans’ identities and assault the public’s right to be heard in government rulemaking,” argued Schneiderman. “If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again.”
Last week, the FCC doubled down on its refusal to cooperate in a more formal response to the AG.
In a letter to the AG’s office by FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson, the agency lawyer again makes it clear the FCC has no interest in helping law enforcement get to the bottom of whoever is behind the farmed support for its repeal. Throughout the letter, Johnson repeatedly tries to imply that the wholesale fraud that occurred is inconsequential.
Johnson told the AG’s office that “while your letter suggests that the public comment process was somehow ‘corrupted’ by the alleged submission of comments under false names, you offer no evidence that this activity affected the Commission’s ability to review and respond to comments in the record.”
Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the FCC is required to solicit and seriously consider relevant comments from the public whenever issuing what’s called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Consumer groups charge the current FCC is not only ignoring the massive public backlash to the rules’ repeal, but is turning a blind eye to comment fraud in order to raise doubts about the validity of the entire process—and therefore the value of legitimate public opposition.
In the letter, Johnson tries to argue that manipulation of the FCC comment process is routine, while subsequently downplaying the importance of the comment process itself.
“As in many important rulemakings, this proceeding carries the potential for advocates on either side to abuse the process to create an appearance of numerical advantage,” Johnson said. “But the Commission does not make policy decisions merely by tallying the comments on either side of a proposal to determine
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