If the FCC’s refusal to acknowledge the vast public outcry against its plan to gut net neutrality isn’t enough of an outrage, its total disinterest in investigating how that same comment system may have been gamed by fake users posing as real Americans adds a bit more insult to injury.
Suspicions arose earlier this year that a person or an organization of some kind was manipulating the FCC feedback system, flooding it with canned anti-net neutrality comments. While form letters around activist causes like this are nothing new, many of those comments were linked to real names, addresses and zip codes of people who denied having ever left feedback on the FCC website. In an open letter on Tuesday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote that his office pursued an investigation of the incident, but that the FCC basically ignored all of its requests for cooperation.
In a Medium post, Schneiderman writes:
“Successfully investigating this sort of illegal conduct requires the participation of the agency whose system was attacked. So in June 2017, we contacted the FCC to request certain records related to its public comment system that were necessary to investigate which bad actor or actors were behind the misconduct. We made our request for logs and other records at least 9 times over 5 months: in June, July, August, September, October (three times), and November.
We reached out for assistance to multiple top FCC officials, including you, three successive acting FCC General Counsels, and the FCC’s Inspector General. We offered to keep the requested records confidential, as we had done when my office and the FCC shared information and documents as part of past investigative work.
Yet we have received no substantive response to our investigative requests. None.”
Likening the manipulation of real names and addresses to more traditional forms of identity theft, Schneiderman expresses concerns about how the fake comments could have warped the FCC’s assessment of public sentiment on net neutrality.
“In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes,” Schneiderman said.
Earlier this year, at least two journalists filed lawsuits against the FCC for its failure to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests on the same topic, one of which sought information about the FCC’s claims that a DDoS attack took its commenting system offline. While the fate of net neutrality may be something of a foregone conclusion at this point, the agency’s brazen lack of transparency around its commenting system shows just how little regard Ajit Pai’s FCC has for the concerns of the American people.