NY Attorney General Finds 2 Million Fake FCC Net Neutrality Comments

from the zombie-votes dept

As Ajit Pai's attack on net neutrality rolls along, it's worth a steady reminder that the FCC's open commenting period for the public was marred by spam-bots inserting comments from some list somewhere, all in support of Pai's actions. In other words, the period during which the FCC is supposed to listen to the general public for feedback never actually existed, masked as it was by these fraudulent comments.

Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, about whom we've not always written kindly, set up a searchable site through which you can find if you or anyone you know has their names in these FCC comments and, if their comment is in support of the government, you can verify whether you or they actually made that comment or not. You might be surprised by the answer you get, however, as Schneiderman announced this week that they have found -- so far -- that at least two million fake comments used real people's names to support Pai and the FCC.

"Millions of fake comments have corrupted the FCC public process—including two million that stole the identities of real people, a crime under New York law," Schneiderman said in an announcement today. "Yet the FCC is moving full steam ahead with a vote based on this corrupted process, while refusing to cooperate with an investigation."

Some comments were submitted under the names of dead people.

"My LATE husband's name was fraudulently used after a valiant battle with cancer," one person told the AG's office. "This unlawful act adds to my pain that someone would violate his good name."

I actually have a family member who's name was used in this way as well, so this touches somewhat close to home. Now, it's worth noting that these two million fake comments are just those that use other's very real names. It is not a sum total of all fake comments that might be included in the 23 million or so that the FCC collected. But if we're already starting from a place where we know for sure that 8 or 9 percent of those comments are fraudulent right off the bat, you'd assume Pai and the FCC would be some kind of interested in figuring out how this all happened.

But Pai has gone the other direction on all of this. He, or his spokespeople, have made odd noises about "erring on the side of inclusion" regarding these astroturf comments, all of which conveniently support him. If bending over backwards to make sure his FCC considers the opinions of the dead and those who have had their names misused just to make sure his ISP clients constituents get to ISP all over the open internet isn't the biggest slap in the face I've ever seen, then I don't know what would be. Meanwhile, Schneiderman is trying to investigate all of this since, you know, an actual crime was committed here, and has been essentially stonewalled by Pai and the FCC. This week he fired off a letter to the FCC, desperately trying to get them to cooperate with his investigation.

One might expect a federal agency to harbor a great deal of concern when faced with strong evidence of a massive fraud uncovered by multiple sources—including, most recently, The Wall Street Journal—that appears to have thoroughly infected its most important rulemaking since the establishment of net neutrality more than a decade ago. Yet, over the objections of a growing bipartisan coalition of over thirty members of both houses of Congress, 18 [other] state attorneys general, and FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, the Commission's leadership appears determined to proceed with its December 14 vote. Moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of the notice and comment process mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act and reward those who perpetrated this fraud in service of their own hidden agenda.

The most cynical among us might think that the agenda isn't so hidden, if it was indeed Pai or someone associated with him pulling this all off. That's overly conspiratorial, perhaps, except that Pai's lame excuses of protecting privacy for not turning over commonplace evidence such as IP addresses to the NY AG's office makes this all look really, really dirty.

Regardless, it's clear the public record during the comment period was nullified by these fake comments. To date, 19 AGs from across the country have called for a delay in the FCC's vote so that they can investigate all of this. Pai, as has become his custom, isn't listening, despite wanting to err on the side of inclusion.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:44am

    It's much, MUCH worse than merely two million

    Read this:

    https://medium.com/@jeffykao/more-than-a-million-pro-repeal-net-neutrality-comments-were-likely -faked-e9f0e3ed36a6

    Let me give you a few quotes from it.

    Quote 1:

    Key Findings:

    1. One pro-repeal spam campaign used mail-merge to disguise 1.3 million comments as unique grassroots submissions.
    2. There were likely multiple other campaigns aimed at injecting what may total several million pro-repeal comments into the system.
    3. It’s highly likely that more than 99% of the truly unique comments were in favor of keeping net neutrality.

    Quote 2:

    After clustering comment categories and removing duplicates, I found that less than 800,000 of the 22M+ comments submitted to the FCC (3-4%) could be considered truly unique.


    Quote 3:

    It turns out old-school statistics allows us to take a representative sample and get a pretty good approximation of the population proportion and a confidence interval. After taking a 1000 comment random sample of the 800,000 organic comments and scanning through them, I was only able to find three comments that were clearly pro-repeal. That results in an estimate of the population proportion at 99.7%. In fact, we are so near 100% pro net neutrality that the confidence interval goes outside of 100%. At the very minimum, we can conclude that the vast preponderance of individuals passionate enough about the issue to write up their own comment are for keeping net neutrality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:58am

      Re: It's much, MUCH worse than merely two million

      "we are so near 100% pro net neutrality that the confidence interval goes outside of 100%."

      I think it is fair to say we can't trust a single word that the FCC says.

      The problem here is people seem to think working through the FCC is the solution. They need to axe their representatives and congress critters instead.

      The attack on the FCC because of its stance on NN is everyone BS excuse to give their corrupt as bought and paid for politicians a pass.

      There is nothing honest about any bit of this situation from either side of the isle. It's all lies and propaganda!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:53am

    The propaganda will not stop,
    even when given a good bop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 11:03am

    No wonder Ronald Reagan, Mahatma Gandhi, JFK and five of the last six popes are all on record calling Pai hyper-corrupt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 11:39am

    Good News

    Well, the good news is that this fraud and the commission's determination to push forward and ignore it will serve as more than adequate grounds to challenge the vote and for a court to issue an injunction on its enforcement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 11:46am

    How long until comments 'accidentally' get deleted?

    I'm sure there will be a hack attempt or ddos that will somehow result in the FCC comments getting accidentally deleted. There will of course be a backup tape, but we will find that the machine was never tested and wasn't actually backing anything up other than the blank disk space...

    /s or the big news story on Dec 15 (once the vote is passed)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 12:32pm

    Eric Schneiderman knows fake

    he is the fakest new york attorney general ever..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 1:20pm

    Someone asked..

    Long ago about the USE of fake ID, to register to vote..

    I made a few opinions on HOW it could have been done, and a few KINDA suggested I was not correct, and it was not possible.

    With this situation..Do we need much more proof?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Someone asked..

      If anything this situation is *disproof* of your claim.

      No registration or verification was involved. There was no government or bank ID to fake. There was no polling station oversight by opposing parties. You know, all the things standard in any election to ensure that any fraud is detected.

      And even then, without all that, the fraud was trivially easy to detect and document.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 14 Dec 2017 @ 3:11pm

      Re: Someone asked..

      *starts to ask "What the hell are you talking about?"*

      *decides not to*

      *blocks ECA*

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 2:48pm

      Re: Someone asked..

      iTS THE IDEA THAT
      even the election broad has no ability to CHECK, who is whom..
      Esp. if the DATA the person is using was created years ago..
      You hcan have old data that has never been verified, ANd no current pictures of the person, because you dont use/need a drivers license..
      EVEN so, a new drivers license gets updated HOW OFTEN?? And all you need is the old license. NOT until recently have they KEPT THE OLD LICENSE PICTURES..
      ANd there is no standard of requirements from state to state for PROOF of who a person is.. YOU CANT verify SS#, its against the law. AND SS# dont have PICTURES.
      I had to dig up my YEAR BOOKS from 30+ years ago..and that was proof.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TruthHurts (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 6:01pm

    Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

    That's a criminal offense.
    The fact that he's doing it from across state lines makes it a Federal crime.
    He's just removed himself from office hasn't he? By making himself a federal criminal, most likely a felony charge, he'll have to be taken off to prison, which means he won't be able to run the office.
    Once all the details come to light, I am certain that those details will show criminal culpability in the "supposed" repeal of Net Neutrality that has been a complete sham from day one. Falsifying reports to congress, refusing to cooperate with State and Federal investigations. Stonewalling / impeding State and Federal criminal investigations, while laughing about it, and even detailing his crimes openly "as a joke".

    Pai is a bigger buffoon than I took him for. I took him for a slut for hire by the telecom/cable/internet industry giants. Now, it appears, that he's not just a slut, but a hitman for hire. His attempt at assassinating net-neutrality, openly laughing at the "rabble" while doing so... What an idiot...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MyNameHere (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 9:13pm

      Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

      Except that, beyond some arm waving by state AGs, there isn't much going on here. I don't even think they have found an actual crime to charge anyone with.

      Let's also go section 230 on this. The FCC website is just an innocent provider, they didn't write the comments and are not liable for them. If you want to charge someone, go after the publisher.

      See how much that sucks?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 1:43am

        Re: Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

        Except that, beyond some arm waving by state AGs, there isn't much going on here.

        Oh absolutely, nothing at all.

        ... So long as you ignore the widespread, fraudulent submission of comments submitted to a government agency for public input using people's names to submit comments without their knowledge or consent, and/or despite the fact that some of the one's who were submitting comments were dead at the time.

        But hey, I'm sure you're right and massive, widespread fraud like that will be brushed aside as a harmless prank.

        Let's also go section 230 on this.

        Let's not.

        I'd like to say that I'm surprised that you are still trying to drag 230 into this, as though it has any relevance or anyone but you is trying to make that connection, but that would be a blatant lie and I think we both know it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          MyNameHere (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 2:50am

          Re: Re: Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

          "Oh absolutely, nothing at all."

          If it was any other subject, you guys would be going on about uppity state AGs sticking their noses into something that isn't there responsibility. In this case, because you like what they are looking into, you are all supportive. But really, is there anything going on here?

          "So long as you ignore the widespread, fraudulent submission of comments submitted to a government agency for public input using people's names to submit comments without their knowledge or consent, and/or despite the fact that some of the one's who were submitting comments were dead at the time."

          At this point, there is nothing to suggest it's anything more than a Boaty Mc Boatface style prank. It was done so blatantly and with so little concern for getting caught, that it has to make you wonder.

          "I'd like to say that I'm surprised that you are still trying to drag 230 into this"

          I am not still trying to drag it in, it's the first time I mention it. The FCC isn't any more liable for comments on their website than Techdirt, by local standards. The fraud you allude to isn't done by the FCC, but by a third party. They are your rules, apply them.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            YaOoG, 15 Dec 2017 @ 5:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

            Except that in this case, the FCC *IS* most likely responsible for the comments. I believe that once they've dug into it, they'll probably find a couple of Apple IIe computers in a back room with code found that ran the comment attack using Russian pilfered "database" for the comment source data.

            Regardless of the source, the data itself isn't the problem.

            The problem is Ajit's refusal to respond to the criminal investigations themselves is a crime, on that he will regret, big time.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              MyNameHere (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 6:00am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

              A federal department being unhelpful to state AGs on a fishing expedition would usually lead to cheering around here.

              The criminal investigations, as they are right now, don't amount to very much. They may also not be within the purview of the states involved, as while there may be victims in their state, it's unlikely that the crime occurred there. There are 50 states, the chance that the victims and the person(s) who posted these up being in the same state is small.

              Since it goes across state lines, and it involves a federal agency, it's also likely to be a federal matter, ie interstate wire fraud. When push comes to shove and it turns out to be two 4chan teens from estonia, the whole thing will fall apart.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 1:49pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Pai is intentionally impeding an active criminal investigation...

            If it was any other subject, you guys would be going on about uppity state AGs sticking their noses into something that isn't there responsibility.

            No, pretty sure widespread fraud and using people's names without their knowledge and consent in support of positions they don't hold, made via submissions to government agencies would be something most people would support AG's looking in to.

            At this point, there is nothing to suggest it's anything more than a Boaty Mc Boatface style prank. It was done so blatantly and with so little concern for getting caught, that it has to make you wonder.

            'It was so blatant the guilty party couldn't have honestly thought it would work'? Really? That is the best you can come up with?

            I'll grant you that it was pretty blatant once people started looking into it, but if you want to go that route then the fact that the FCC is refusing to address it is pretty damning. 'Yeah we know widespread obvious fraud was committed, but eh, it's not like it's a big deal'.

            Also in that case I certainly hope no-one on the anti-net neutrality side fell for such an obvious 'prank', because boy would they have egg on their face in that case.

            I am not still trying to drag it in, it's the first time I mention it.

            In which case you might want to refresh your memory, because you are either wrong(intentionally or not) in claiming so, or you personally should really be on the other side of this since someone using your name and your account brought it up back in july over the course of multiple comments.

            The FCC isn't any more liable for comments on their website than Techdirt, by local standards.

            Good thing no-one is saying that they should be held liable for the contents of the comments then or even charged with fraud for their submissions.

            The fraud you allude to isn't done by the FCC, but by a third party.

            Correct, which is why TD isn't calling for them to be charged for the fraud, and the AG isn't charging the FCC for fraud but is instead trying to find out who did it, and rightly pointing out that the FCC is stonewalling and refusing to provide any assistance on the matter.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 7:04pm

    This is no surprise in the least and Pai's ultimate paymasters aren't about to let him off the hook. If it interferes with money and profit and screwing the customers then it's evil and must be crushed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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