FCC Refuses To Release FOIA Documents Pertaining To Its Stupid Verizon 'Collusion' Joke
from the transparency! dept
You might recall that right before the FCC voted to kill net neutrality at Verizon’s behest, the agency thought it would be a hoot to joke about the agency’s “collusion” with Verizon at a telecom industry gala. The lame joke was a tone-deaf attempt to mock very legitimate concerns that Pai, a former Verizon regulatory lawyer, is far too close to the industry he’s supposed to be regulating. The FCC even went so far as to include a little video featuring Verizon executives, who chortled about their plans to install Pai as a “puppet” leader at the agency. Hilarious.
While the audience of policy wonks and lobbyists giggled, the whole thing was tone deaf and idiotic from stem to stern. Especially given the fact that Pai’s policies have been nothing short of a Verizon wish list, whether that involves protecting Verizon’s monopoly over business data services (BDS), or the efforts to undermine any attempts to hold Verizon accountable for repeated privacy violations. Much like the other lame video Pai circulated at the time to make light of consumer outrage, it only served to highlight how viciously out of touch this FCC is with the public it’s supposed to be looking out for.
Gizmodo recently filed a FOIA request to obtain any communications between the FCC and Verizon regarding the creation of the video, arguing the records were well within the public interest given concerns over Pai’s cozy relationship with the companies he’s supposed to be holding accountable. But Gizmodo says the FCC refused the request under Exemption 5 of the FOIA (Deliberative Process Privilege). While the request revealed around a dozen pages of e-mails between the FCC and Verizon, the FCC refuses to release them, arguing they could harm the ability of the agency to do its job (read: kiss Verizon’s ass):
“At its own discretion, the Federal Communications Commission has chosen to block the release of records related to a video produced last year in which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and a Verizon executive joke about installing a ?Verizon puppet? as head of the FCC. In a letter to Gizmodo last week, the agency said it was withholding the records from the public in order to prevent harm to the agency?an excuse experts say is a flagrant attempt to skirt federal transparency law.
Needless to say, FOIA experts don’t believe a tone deaf joke qualifies for the exemption:
“To argue that this video amounts to the same kind of deliberative process that goes on behind the scenes in terms of an agency deciding an official policy on a topic, or what actions it?s going to take, is absurd,? Marshall said. ?The deliberative process is frequently used to withhold embarrassing information or inconvenient information. I have no idea how a draft of a skit that was supposed to be funny would impair the FCC?s decision-making process on anything, except on, I guess, maybe future skits.”
In short the FCC was cocky enough to think that mocking Verizon collusion concerns was somehow a good idea, yet now doesn’t want anybody seeing its communications with Verizon executives. The agency pretty clearly is worried the e-mails could be embarrassing or potentially harm the agency’s chances against the wall of lawsuits headed its direction for ignoring the public interest.
Remember that Ajit Pai has routinely crowed about how “transparent” his FCC would be. Yet just one year in, Pai’s agency is already facing numerous lawsuits for refusing to disclose conversations with ISP lobbyists about the plan to kill net neutrality, refusing to disclose net neutrality complaints filed with the agency, refusing to be transparent about a DDoS attack the FCC apparently concocted to downplay the “John Oliver effect,” and for ignoring FOIA requests related to its failure to police website comment fraud during the public comment period (they’re also blocking a law enforcement investigation into that same issue).
In short, whatever Pai’s private definitions of both “transparency” and “joke” are, you sure as hell won’t find them in the dictionary.