Failures

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
ajit pai, fcc, foia, transparency



The Ajit Pai FCC Often Battles FOIA Requests For No Reason, Showcasing Its Hostility To Transparency

from the ill-communication dept

You might recall 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).

This stonewalling extended to more mundane subject matter, like media inquiries into that giant Reeses mug Pai believes is eccentric. Or inquiries into who was behind that aggressively lame Harlem Shake video that featured Pai and some pizzagate conspiracy theorists trolling net neutrality supporters.

Hip, man, yeah.

As with other, more serious inquires, reporters that filed FOIA requests related to this video were met with stonewalling by the FCC, which tried to claim that numerous FOIA exemptions prevented it from complying. In this case, reporters say they were told by Pai's FCC they couldn't release any emails related to the video's creation because of FOIA exemption b(5) (affectionately referred to as the "Withhold It Because You Want To" exemption by FOIA nerds). That is, you might recall, the same exemption the Pai FCC used when people tried to find out if he worked with Verizon on another, similarly lame video making light of his cozy ties to industry.

All of that said, MuckRock Executive Editor JPat Brown persisted, filing numerous appeals stating that the FCC was engaged in a bad faith interpretation of b(5)’s deliberative process privilege. After the FCC spent months denying requests or trying to provide everything but the email bodies, the FCC was finally forced to comply last month, and released at least some internal emails related to the video's creation.

What did they say? Bupkis. Several simply highlighted how the Pai FCC has worked with Trump-friendly outlets like the Daily Caller on the video's production and circulation, which we already knew. Other emails the FCC fought to avoid releasing said nothing of note at all:

Which is all a long way of showcasing how, as Brown notes, the FCC's aggressive hostility to transparency (even if there's nothing actually at stake) is its default mode of operation:

"Look, I’ll be the first to say that Pai dusting off some dated memes is far from the agency’s worst crime, and if the FCC had just released these records when I asked from them last December, I would have struggled to string together a couple of work emails into an article of any substance. But the fact that the agency felt the need to fight me on such a stupid issue, for as long as they did, all the while taking care to make sure they don’t lose any ground to fight stupid fights in the future, is alarming, and an important reminder that some agencies are fundamentally opposed to being held accountable for anything.

Pai's blind fealty to incumbent broadband monopolies like Comcast isn't unique; we saw much of the same behavior during the tenure of former FCC Boss Mike Powell, now the top lobbyist for the cable industry. But Pai's FCC is different in that it doesn't just engage in the normal up is down, black is white rhetoric normally reserved for industry sycophants. Pai's current staffers seem to actively enjoy making critics (often the bipartisan majority of ordinary Americans) angry. They're having fun being misleading and aggressively contentious assholes (for lack of a more apt technical term).

But the Pai FCC also differentiates itself by being aggressively hostile to transparency almost to a comical fault. There was no reason to fight against the release of the above emails so vehemently, and the fact Pai's agency did so shows that, even at the risk of costly lawsuits and wasted taxpayer dollars, this FCC sees truth and transparency as mortal enemies in dire need of conquering, not essential axles in the healthy functioning of a democracy.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Jan 2019 @ 6:36am

    Use the exception on everything & then you never have to worry about if what you are doing is legal or ethical.
    Occasionally some things might get released & will show nothing so people will stop asking questions.... eventually....some decade... in an alternate universe where regulatory capture is actually banned & punished.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 7 Jan 2019 @ 8:39am

    And administration priding on being transparent fighting all it can to being transparent is......transparent.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 9:27am

      Re:

      To misquote Terry Pratchett, "transparent" can mean that you can see right through something... or that you can't see it at all.

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

  • identicon
    spikerman87, 7 Jan 2019 @ 8:43am

    What Master do you serve?

    I feel like there should be a new rule that future FCC chairmans can have no history of working with Cable or ISP in any fashion. Seems they do nothing but serve their previous masters.

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

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 7 Jan 2019 @ 9:00am

      Re: What Master do you serve?

      We all thought Wheeler was going to be a dingo was going to eat the baby. But turned out, he protected the baby.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 9:16am

      Re: What Master do you serve?

      We'd also have to ban them from ever working for those companies in the future, too. Much of what they do while in office is set themselves up for a juicy job when their time is up.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 8:50am

    Maybe it is just about costing you money to get the information. Doesn't matter what you ask - make it hurt financially.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      That runs directly counter to the whole point of the FOIA. Are you suggesting that FOIA is bad and the public has no right to know what their elected officials and government servants are up to on the public's dime?

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 7 Jan 2019 @ 9:52am

        Re: Re:

        I read the comment as descriptive -- as if the anon isn't praising Pai, merely describing what he's doing.

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

        • identicon
          bob, 7 Jan 2019 @ 11:34am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It should be a rule that if an agency is found to be abusing a FOIA exception then they are banned from using that exception. At least until after a court has approved each new implementation for a while. If they still abuse it then it ahould be removed entirely. Also the head of the agency should probably atart needing to pay the court fees as it is obviously a misuse of taxpayer's money.

          For him to block access to a single word email "ok" is beyond ridiculous and very much wasteful of government resources.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 1:44pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Fuck this asshole. What a low life piece of shit!!!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 10:04am

    Pai battles against everything that can show what an asshole he is and how he's doing whatever he can to aid the likes of Verizon while screwing the American people! i just hope that when the time comes, he gets his just deserts and that it involves jail time! perhaps then he wont be so keen to take a position that goes against what the people he is supposed to represent want!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2019 @ 10:46am

    I think they just like to kick the little people, I doubt they reject anything from their buddies.

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

    • identicon
      bob, 7 Jan 2019 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      I doubt they need to use a FOIA. They already have a copy of the email exchanges, they were the original recipients of the emails.

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


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