The FBI Is Now Looking Into Those Bogus Net Neutrality Comments

from the ill-communication dept

So we already knew numerous reporters, the GAO, and the New York State AG’s office are already looking into who was behind the millions of bogus comments that plagued the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. And we’ve already noted how the Ajit Pai FCC has been trying its very best to hinder those inquiries, whether we’re talking about the way that it has been blocking and stalling on journalist FOIA requests, or actively ignoring numerous, previous inquiries from law enforcement.

The FCC’s efforts to obfuscate the culprit by refusing to share data on this subject may have just become more… complicated. Over the weekend, Daily Beast reporter Kevin Collier noted that two additional AG’s offices (Massachusetts and Washington, DC) — and the FBI — have also started digging into those fake comments as well:

“The Justice Department is investigating whether crimes were committed when potentially millions of people?s identities were posted to the FCC?s website without their permission, falsely attributing to them opinions about net neutrality rules, BuzzFeed News has learned. Two organizations told BuzzFeed News, each on condition that they not be named, that the FBI delivered subpoenas to them related to the comments.”

New York’s AG began its investigation last year, but stated in a public letter a year ago that the FCC had actively blocked all efforts by the AG to obtain server, API, and other data that could help identify who was behind the fraudulent comments, some of them mysteriously made by dead people. The AG’s office stated Pai’s office ignored nine inquiries over a period of five months for more details:

“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.”

According to the NY AG’s office, about 9.5 million of the more than 22 million comments filed with the FCC during the repeal’s open comment period were filed using peoples’ names without their consent (including my own and those of two Senators). Last October, the New York AG announced they had expanded their probe, issuing subpoenas to both numerous ISP-linked lobbying and policy organizations (like the industry’s dubious Broadband for America policy vessel) as well as a few pro net neutrality consumer groups.

Last week, numerous outlets falsely reported that “Russia” was behind these comments. There’s no actual evidence of that (500,000 Russian email addresses were used, but that doesn’t mean Russia itself was involved). As we’ve seen during the similar bogus comments plaguing other US government proceedings in recent years, the usual culprit is almost always the companies that stand to benefit from the regulatory efforts in question, since there’s several DC policy shops that apparently sell these kinds of services (read: bogus support for terrible policies) as a value added service.

And while it’s pretty clear that the Ajit Pai FCC doesn’t want anybody knowing which firm tried to stuff the ballot box and who was funding the initiative, the involvement of the DOJ and several additional AG offices means hiding the truth just got immeasurably more difficult. And depending what investigators find, that could seriously complicate next February’s opening arguments in the net neutrality lawsuit against the FCC, which, if the FCC and its ISP allies lose, could end with the restoration of the FCC’s 2015 rules, bringing us fill circle.

If it turns out the broadband industry or some proxy organization paid a DC lobbying firm to stuff the ballot box (which has always seemed the most likely explanation given historical precedent), such a self-inflicted wound would be utterly legendary.

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Comments on “The FBI Is Now Looking Into Those Bogus Net Neutrality Comments”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Data? What data? Oh, THAT data. Yeah, that's gone, sorry.'

Roughly 100% I expect. Whether it be an ‘unforeseen hardware malfunction’ or ‘routine maintenance’ I’d give the data the same odds as a snowball in hell of being around when the ones trying to gain access it actually pry it from the FCC hands.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Prep those cuffs boys and girls

Yeah, unless the FBI is willing to actually levy some real punishments for refusal to comply I fully expect that they’ll get the runaround same as everyone else has gotten up to now. With the responses towards investigation requests up to this point I’d say it’s pretty clear that Pai really does not want that data to be looked at by anyone else, and will do whatever he can to prevent that.

DB (profile) says:

I predict that the investigation will find that Verizon and one other telecom company paid a semi-respectable lobbying firm which subcontracted out to a “grass roots” firm that paid the overseas shop that did the bad deed.

At every level they were careful to retain deniability. No one at Verizon will have direct knowledge that astroturfing was done, they just paid the generic bills as-submitted. The lobbying firm will claim that they didn’t know the grass-roots firm was doing anything but getting legitimate signatures. The grass-roots firm will claim that they weren’t doing anything illegal on U.S. soil, that it was all the overseas shop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who's "blue"?

For those new to the site, “blue” and “out_of_the_blue” refer to those arrogant commentors who pay for the privilege of putting their deathless wit in Techdirt’s unique “First Word” and “Last Word”, the highlighting done by hyper-links (hence the name “out of the blue”), usually large and always annoying. You see those only rarely because universally reviled.

It’s a particularly apt gibe for in the following piece on “paid-for publishing”!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fractally wrong

I was going to point out that the AC is letting their obsession with blue get away with them again before I read your comment and had to switch gears. How do you get everything so completely wrong? Gross dishonesty or just massively confused, I can’t figure out which is more likely.

To actually clarify for anyone new to the site who might otherwise be taken in by the utterly wrong ”clarification’ above, Blue, or out_of_the_blue(though they haven’t used that name for years, even if they’ve never stopped commenting) refers to the site’s #1 fan/fanatic/stalker, a grossly dishonest individual who enjoys lying, putting forth hilarious strawmen, and slinging childish insults, all on a site they claim to loathe.

They have nothing to do with the ‘First/Last Word’ system, as getting credits for that requires spending money on the site, and I’m pretty sure they’d rather light themselves on fire than do that, and instead that system is aimed at rewarding those that support the site by allowing them to highlight comments they feel are important and/or manage to make a good point by putting it at the top of the comment section(‘First Word’) or the bottom(‘Last Word’).

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fractally wrong

Oh man. This is frickin’ hilarious. Pure comedy gold.

Blue is trying to deflect away from himself by claiming the words "Blue" and "out_of_the_blue" refers to the First/Last Words. Too funny.

And by the way, I’m pretty sure it was Blue’s comment up there based on the phrase "You see those only rarely because universally reviled."

He tends to leave out the common expletives that most people use trying to sound superior or something. Most people would write the sentence like this: "You see those only rarely because it is universally reviled."

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