FCC Commissioner Accuses Her Own Agency Of A Net Neutrality Cover Up
from the ill-communication dept
We’ve long discussed how the Pai FCC’s net neutrality repeal was plagued with millions of fraudulent comments, many of which were submitted by a bot pulling names from a hacked database of some kind. Millions of ordinary folks (like myself) had their identities used to support Pai’s unpopular plan, as did several Senators. Numerous journalists have submitted FOIA requests for more data (server logs, IP addresses, API data, anything) that might indicate who was behind the fraudulent comments, who may have bankrolled them, and what the Pai FCC knew about it.
But the Pai FCC has repeatedly tried to tap dance around FOIA requests, leading to several journalists (including those at the New York Times and Buzzfeed) suing the FCC. Despite the Times’ lawyers best efforts to work with the FCC to tailor the nature of their requests over a period of months, the agency continues to hide behind FOIA exemptions that don’t really apply here: namely FOIA exemption 6 (related to protecting privacy) and 7E (related to protecting agency security and law enforcement activity).
And while the Times and Buzzfeed had appealed the FCC’s ruling, the FCC this week released a memorandum and order formally denying those requests. In it, the FCC doubles down on the claims that it’s simply blocking the release of this data because it’s super worried about the privacy of FCC commenters (though again, if you actually read the Times lawsuit, you’ll note the FCC was utterly inflexible in terms of narrowing down the scope of requests).
FCC lawyers also try to make the amusing claim that the press really doesn’t need this data because there’s other investigations (including one at the GAO) trying to get to the bottom of the scandal:
“Confessore proffers a putative public interest in understanding the integrity of the Commission?s comment process. This question, however, is being or has already been examined by other press outlets,51 Commission staff, and the Government Accountability Office, among others. Confessore has not provided us with any reason to believe that his review of this data would significantly advance any public interest beyond the investigations that are already underway.”
Of course this is the same FCC that has also actively blocked law enforcement efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal, refusing nine inquiries from the NY AG over a period of five months for additional data. So while the Pai FCC breathlessly claims it’s all about transparency and integrity, their actions on this subject (and that whole fake DDOS attack they concocted in a weird bid to downplay public backlash) tend to undermine these claims.
Meanwhile, Pai’s fellow Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, has certainly taken off the gloves in recent weeks. She hit Twitter and issued a statement that effectively accused her own agency of engaging in a cover up of fraudulent activity:
What is the @FCC hiding? When two reporters ask questions about serious fraud and evidence of Russian intervention in the @FCC #NetNeutrality record the agency refuses to provide answers. This is not right. Something is very wrong. @nickconfessore @jsvine https://t.co/0XokgOUybH
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) December 3, 2018
Her full statement (pdf) is also worth a read, and doesn’t pull any punches:
“Instead of providing news organizations with the information requested, in this decision the FCC decides to hide behind Freedom of Information Act exemptions and thwart investigative journalism. In doing so, the agency asserts an overbroad claim about the security of its public commenting system that sounds no more credible than its earlier and disproven claim that the system was the subject of distributed denial of service attack. It appears this agency is trying to prevent anyone from looking too closely at the mess it made of net neutrality. It is hiding what it knows about the fraud in our record and it is preventing an honest account of its many problems from seeing the light of day.
Pai’s justification for the FOIA blockade tries very heavily to insist this is all just unfair partisan gamesmanship. But at this juncture his FCC’s record when it comes to transparency, blatant telecom sector cronyism, and bizarre scandals has pretty much been established. This is an agency that not only used bullshit telecom lobbyist data to undermine policies that had broad, bipartisan public support, it has been rocked by scandal after scandal, fought tooth and nail against real transparency on numerous fronts, and has refused to give any real weight to the will of the tech-savvy public.
Pai comes off as an unwavering ideologue who truly seems to believe he’s doing an incredible job of “unleashing innovation” despite every shred of evidence to the contrary (not unlike the man who appointed him to the position). Unfortunately for Pai, whose post-FCC political ambitions couldn’t be any more obvious, his legacy will likely be the giant middle finger he’s given to tech-savvy Millennials. As for the fake comments specifically, they’re likely to play a starring role in next February’s net neutrality lawsuits, which will look to prove the agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act by ignoring the will of the public as it rushed to give AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast a sloppy kiss for the ages.