Failures

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
ajit pai, b5, deliberative process, fcc, jokes, transparency

Companies:
verizon



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.


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 6:43am

    "tone-deaf attempt to mock very legitimate concerns"

    It really sucks when you get what you give doesn't it?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 6:57am

      Re:

      When did Techdirt give the telecom industry free reign to fuck us all over?

      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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:41am

        Re: Re:

        ha ha ha... say wuh? I am interesting in the logical gymnastics necessary for you to arrive that that conclusion based on what I said when the only thing I was saying is that the pot is calling the kettle black.

        Both the FCC and TD willfully mocks others they disagree with. I notice that a lot of fanboi's around here seem to think it's okay for them to mock but not others.

        You guys sure to spend a lot of time defending an organization that is screwing you.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's called freedom of speech, genius. You say something worthy of mockery, we mock you, you're free to talk back. If enough people tire of the dumb way you choose to answer they will tune you out, true, but in no way are these the same thing.

          You're also spending a lot effort trying to draw a false equivalence between a website you choose to visit without hinderance every day, and the government organisation that controls your access to it. Even you can see a slight difference between these things?

          "You guys sure to spend a lot of time defending an organization that is screwing you."

          I'm confused. You only mentioned 2 organisations, but nobody here apart from you defends the FCC and TD is screwing nobody. Which organisation are you referring to?

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

          • identicon
            Thad, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:54am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I'm confused. You only mentioned 2 organisations, but nobody here apart from you defends the FCC and TD is screwing nobody. Which organisation are you referring to?

            As always, he's projecting.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Anyone who brings stupid "both sides" nonsense can be certainly be mocked, yes.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ha ha ha... say wuh? I am interesting...

          No, you're not.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      Comment marked as "Spam/Off Topic Trolling" if you were wondering why *your* voice isn't being heard.

      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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:34am

        Re: Re:

        Kinda like the FCC just did to everyone else?

        Like I said... sucks when you get what you give doesn't it?

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 7:34am

      Re:

      Huh, you posted legitimate concerns here rather than ranting, personal attacks and trying to pass off heavily biased opinion pieces as objective fact?

      I must have missed those, do you have a link?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 6:46am

    Perhaps in the future geneticists can develop a cross between a weasel and a hag fish.

    They could all it the Pai.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      Sing a song of sixpence,
      A pocket full of wry.
      Four and twenty blackbirds,
      Baked in a Pai.
      When the Pai was opened
      The birds began to sing;
      Wasn't that a dainty dish,
      To set before the king.
      The king was in his counting house,
      Counting out his money;
      The queen was in the parlour,
      Eating bread and honey.
      The maid was in the garden,
      Hanging out the clothes,
      When down came a blackbird
      And pecked off her nose.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 7:23am

    "I can't believe some people think you ever Stopped working for us." "I know, right?"

    "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."

    The video itself wouldn't, however if the emails involved demonstrated an extremely close relationship, like, oh I dunno, the kind you'd expect from a boss and their employee, that might make it a little harder for the FCC to claim to be acting for the good of the public, rather than the telecom industry.

    It's also possible that unlike interactions with the public, Pai's interactions with Verizon would be more honest, such that the emails could contain statements undercutting claims made elsewhere.

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

  • identicon
    Machin Shin, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:08am

    "In short, whatever Pai's private definitions of both "transparency" and "joke" are, you sure as hell won't find them in the dictionary."

    Well it seems like he is using the same definition of "transparency" Obama did during "The most transparent administration in history"

    To quote one of the great thinkers of our time "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

    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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:09am

    #RESIST

    Keep knitting your P hats, Techdirt, and just relax.

    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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:06am

      Re: #RESIST

      You’ve still got a bit of Cheeto dust around your anus.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:16am

    emails? ... LOL

    The gop run FCC does not want anyone to see their emails with Verizon.

    Didn't the gop recently spend gobs of time and money on ridiculous email scavenger hunts? Where is Trey Gowdy when you need him? Perhaps he could have a look into these FCC emails and get to the bottom of it. Not gonna happen is it?

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

  • identicon
    David, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:22am

    Definition time:

    "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.

    It's not the job of the agency to prevent harm to the agency. It is the job of the agency to prevent harm to consumers. The ones paying its salaries. The FOIA act ensures that the employers of public officials have the means to make sure that the officials are doing the job they are being paid for by the people.

    If that would be detrimental to the good of the agency, the good of the agency is not aligned with the good of the people and salaries are obtained under fraudulous pretenses.

    Basically the answer is "Accountability? I beg your pardon, we are criminals!"

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

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:04am

      Re: Definition time:

      Yeah, I thought that excuse was stupid "agency said it was withholding the records from the public in order to prevent harm to the agency"

      The entire point of FOIA laws are to make sure agencies release documents that might embarrass and hurt the agency. None of these agencies have a problem releasing fluffy nice stuff about themselves. It is only the damaging things they fight to keep hidden.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:37am

    "In short, whatever Pai's private definitions of both "transparency" and "joke" are, you sure as hell won't find them in the dictionary."

    Neither will you find his definition of "telecommunications service"

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

    • identicon
      David, 8 Feb 2018 @ 1:34pm

      Re:

      On the plus side, you can always write down your own favorite definition and hand it to him on a cheque of sufficient size and he'll take it under advisement.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:40am

    Well if the "joke" process is merely the actual process with a few lame attempts at humor sprinkles on top, than one could argue that protecting one is protecting the other. Of course, that turns the exemption into a fifth-amendment-style admission.

    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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:44am

      Re:

      many a truth is said in jest.

      Pai is clearly bought and sold, but when I come along TD will defend the FCC and Ajit because I want to destroy corruption. TD does not, they just want it bent to their political desires.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:25am

        Re: Re:

        but when I come along TD will defend the FCC and Ajit

        Liar, though by all means, provide a citation demonstrating this if you think you can.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:28am

        Re: Re:

        What?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re:

        Chip you and out if the blue should have a cookie together. You both have some much in common. Huge levels of projection. A highly inflated ego. A distaste for objective reality. A martyr complex a mile long. And a love of self inflicted heavy metal poisoning bordering on the obscene. It a match made in heaven, or st least the mental heath ward of a major hospital.

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

  • identicon
    Iggy, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:43am

    10 Things you can still do after Title II repeal

    Hey, Ajit Pai! After Title II is repealed, will we still be able to publicly share the inside jokes of telecom lobbyists and policymakers? I didn't see it on the list. I bet youtube viewers would have a blast making memes out of them!

    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, 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:46am

    You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

    Sheesh. What damning confession do you expect will be in these emails: "I am an utterly loyal Verizon shill, highly-paid to promote its and only its interests to way beyond criminal level and if this ever gets out I'll be hung"?

    Only "Democrats" are that stupid. -- Just my observation, don't bother to point out that "Republicans" exceed them in the more fascistic evils, because I just stated it, see?

    Anyhoo, yet more of time-and-money-wasting attempt at a FOIA gotcha, the main occupation of a certain species of weenie.

    Note the 4 pointless responses above to mild AC snark as useless in same way. Sheesh.

    And this for key morning piece? What the HELL do you Techdirt re-writers even think interesting in this? Hilarious.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:55am

      Re: You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

      "last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked"

      No, the fact that you're a lying moron who regularly posts things that get reported as spam gets it blocked. Or, more accurately, sent to that spam filter your tiny mind hasn't grasped yet and later approved by a person who goes through comments held for approval.

      "What damning confession do you expect will be in these emails"

      Could be anything. Or nothing. Or confirmation of what we already know. Why do you have a problem with people wishing to see the evidence one way or the other?

      "And this for key morning piece?"

      Again, this is not a primary news source. Never has been, never will be. Please go to somewhere that does the job you keep whining about not being done here, because at the moment you're doing the equivalent of whining that the local goodwill never has that week's new releases in stock. It doesn't work like that.

      Plus, it's not morning, I'm about to clock off for the day :P

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:34am

        Re: Re: You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

        Personally, unless it is for national security, I think all documents/emails of government agencies should be public.

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

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re: You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

          Not even then. ALL documents for the gov should be public, however, I could agree to allowing a judge/panel to redact the most secret info, like names and places for spies or the like. Nothing else should be secret.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 9:40am

      Re: You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

      yawn

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

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 8 Feb 2018 @ 12:04pm

      Re: You know who (last time tried the name in subject line gets it blocked) says he's "not a Google shill", so he must be, huh?

      "Sheesh. What damning confession do you expect will be in these emails:"

      Well, What is the super big secret in these e-mails then? Is Pai afraid we might figure out his secret method for making such awesome skits?

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 8:49am

    "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.

    Marshall is simply not nearly cynical enough to look at it the right way: this was the FCC's official policy, framed in a humorous fashion, and therefore the making of the skit is legitimate deliberation.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:44am

      Re:

      By using that exception for not releasing the documents, that is indeed what they have openly admitted. Either way, this should help in the lawsuits to come.

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

  • icon
    schnick (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 10:49am

    catch 23

    So ...

    • People accuse the FCC of collusion with the industry, and specifically Verizon, based on the former relationships of the new chair, and the cozy policy decisions made in their favor
    • the FCC makes a tone deaf video, in consultation with Verizon, making fun of these accusations
    • people request the communications regarding the making of the video
    • The FCC claims these documents are subject to an FOIA exemption based on the idea that they meet the requirements of being ...

      "documents reflecting advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations comprising part of a process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated"

    ... am I crazy, or did they just completely make the case that they are colluding with Verizon to set government policy?

    And if not, how so?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 8 Feb 2018 @ 11:34am

      Re: catch 23

      No, that looks to be a pretty accurate summary of events, and a good catch in pointing out that the particular excuse they used just makes them look even worse.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2018 @ 11:48am

        Re: Re: catch 23

        Yeah, they really screwed the pooch on this one...

        They meant to use the "My dog ate the responsive documents." excuse... I'm sure they will get it right in the law suit.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 8 Feb 2018 @ 3:21pm

    The modern FOIA process;

    1. File a FOIA request.

    2. Wait while the agency stalls and misses deadlines.

    3. Be told that A. There are no documents, B. It can't release the documents, or C. It will cost $1,000+ per page to release the documents.

    4. Sue the agency and win.

    5. Receive mostly blacked out pages.

    6. Rinse and repeat...

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.