FCC (Read: Taxpayers) Forced To Pay Journalist's Legal Bills After Tap Dancing Around FOIA Requests

from the nothing-to-see-here dept

You may or may not remember that FCC boss Ajit Pai promised to operate the “most transparent” FCC ever. Initially, Pai lived up to that promise by changing FCC policy so that FCC orders would be released before they were voted on; a pretty obvious improvement of benefit to both consumers and ISP lobbyists alike. But in the year or two since, Pai has shown that genuine transparency is the very least of the chairman’s priorities.

For example, Pai’s FCC has actively refused to aid law enforcement inquiries into who was behind the millions of bogus comments that polluted the net neutrality repeal public comment period. Similarly, the Pai FCC’s general response to FOIA requests has been to stall, delay, and ignore said requests whenever possible, resulting in numerous lawsuits by media outlets attempting to get to the bottom of all manner of bizarre FCC policy decisions (like that fake DDOS attack emails show they made up to try and downplay public anger over the net neutrality repeal).

One of those lawsuits was filed by journalist Jason Prechtel, whose analysis recently helped shed some light on the telecom and Trump-linked organizations who stuffed the FCC ballot box during the net neutrality public comment period — in some cases using stolen identities. The Pai FCC repeatedly ignored or stalled in response to Prechtel’s FOIA requests regarding this data, so he sued the agency back in 2017. Last week, a court ruled that the FCC (read: taxpayers) will be forced to reimburse Prechtel’s legal costs to the tune of $43,000.

As Gizmodo notes, it was probably money well spent if integrity and transparency actually matter to you:

“The data Prechtel ultimately obtained through the case formed the basis of a Gizmodo report last month?which he coauthored?that revealed how investigators had linked various entities, including a prominent Washington, D.C., publication, to potentially millions of fraudulent comments submitted during the 2017 net neutrality rollback.

The same data was previously withheld from law enforcement investigators by the FCC?s top lawyer citing jurisdictional and privacy concerns. Prechtel eventually obtained it under FOIA from a separate agency.”

The settlement formally settles the dispute, though the FCC denies any wrongdoing. Still, numerous state AGs, the GAO, and the FBI are all investigating those bogus comments filed during the net neutrality repeal, and have subpoenaed several of the ISP-linked organizations Prechtel’s data helped identify as the culprits. As such, this singular FOIA dispute is just one small part of a much larger, weirder story that still hasn’t been fully told.

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Comments on “FCC (Read: Taxpayers) Forced To Pay Journalist's Legal Bills After Tap Dancing Around FOIA Requests”

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Toom1275 (profile) says:

Some notes taken from last month’s article:

The investigation focused around a distinctively-phrased pile of dogshit — that NN was [paraphrased as I neglected to copy the original into my notes] "a conspiracy between TechLeft Google and globalist (((George Soros))) that does the opposite of what it says."

That language was found in at least 6-800,000 identical comments.

The above language was first squirted out by Christie-Lee McNally. CM is a former GOP executive, was the statewide Trump campaign director for Maine, is the executive of Raven Strategies, a political consulting firm use by the Trump campaign, the president of the astroturf group "Free Our Internet," and runs another front group called "Net Freedom Ring."

The claims naturally bounced their way around the right-wing echo chamber – Breitbart, Infowars, StormFront, DailyCaller, and the less-reputable places. They were also parroted by Roger Stone.

Ethan Elion, who runs another political consulting firm called Vertical Strategies, is also on the board of some anti-NN astroturfing groups of his own, called "Protect Internet Freedom" and "Don’t Tread on the Net" — hosted on the same servers as other GOP PACs.

It was found that while the uploader of the dogshit-filled fake comments above tried to obscure their identity, their submissions all had the distinctive filename structure of FOI.csv (Free Our Internet)

On the other side, legitimate bulk filers like Fight for the Future identified themselves normally.

For reference – astroturfers named above already:
"Free Our Internet"
"Net Freedom Ring"
"Protect Internet Freedom"
"Don’t Tread on the Net"

Other groups:
"Center for Individual Freedom" – much like the Heartland Institute, created to be tobacco industry shills, now continues to operate on corporate dark money

"The National Hispanic Fund" has accepted large amounts of money from front group "Broadband for America"

Another doublespeak name – "Taxpayer Protection Alliance"

One final note – Ajit Pai has links to several of these fake-comment-making sham groups.

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