The Super 'Transparent' Pai FCC Is Still Trying To Hide Details On Those Fake Net Neutrality Comments

from the dysfunction-junction dept

We've long discussed how the Pai FCC's net neutrality repeal was plagued with millions of fraudulent comments, many of which were submitted by a bot pulling names from a hacked database of some kind. Millions of ordinary folks (like myself) had their identities used to support Pai's unpopular plan, as did several Senators. Numerous journalists have submitted FOIA requests for more data (server logs, IP addresses, API data, anything) that might indicate who was behind the fraudulent comments, who may have bankrolled them, and what the Pai FCC knew about it.

But the Pai FCC has repeatedly tried to tap dance around FOIA requests, leading to several journalists (including those at the New York Times and Buzzfeed) suing the FCC. Despite the Times' lawyers best efforts to work with the FCC to tailor the nature of their requests over a period of months, the agency continues to hide behind FOIA exemptions that don't really apply here: namely FOIA exemption 6 (related to protecting privacy) and 7E (related to protecting agency security and law enforcement activity).

In court filings made last week, the FCC also reiterated its claim that the primary reason it won't release more data is because it's just super concerned about user privacy:

"If the FCC is compelled to disclose an individual’s IP address, operating system and version, browser platform and version, and language settings, and that information is linked to the individual’s publicly-available name and postal address, that disclosure would result in clearly unwarranted invasions of personal privacy,” the FCC argues in papers filed late last week with U.S. District Court Judge Lorna Schofield in the Southern District of New York."

To be clear, this is the same FCC that did absolutely nothing to prevent or address the fraud, then actively blocked law enforcement inquiries into this issue. In other words, this FCC has had numerous opportunities to cooperate with both law enforcement by providing confidential data, and has refused to do so. It's also the same FCC that has done absolutely nothing about countless privacy scandals in the telecom sector, suggesting this sudden breathless concern for privacy may not be particularly authentic.

NY Times lawyers have responded by claiming they're entitled to the data under the freedom of information act, and it's essential to discovering where the bogus comments originated. They've also argued that information like IP address isn't all that sacred, since most of the commenters have likely utilized countless different IP addresses in the several years since:

"Most individuals connect their devices to the internet using a steadily changing series of IP addresses assigned by internet service providers,” the Times wrote in a motion for summary judgment. “An internet-connected device’s IP address today may not be its IP address tomorrow. And the IP address of a device used by a commenter in mid-2017 is almost certainly not its IP address in mid-2019."

Using the data they've collected so far, diligent reporters have already found many of the fake comments were driven by CQ Roll Call, a DC-based news and policy organization, and Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), a "dark money" influence group with historical ties to defending tobacco companies. Who their clients were in this instance should be fairly obvious, but nobody has been able to publicly, directly link the effort to the telecom sector just yet. Given several ongoing lawsuits and investigations by numerous state AGs, the GAO, and FBI, it still seems fairly likely that there's several chapters in this ridiculous novel yet to come.

Filed Under: ajit pai, fake comments, fcc, net neutrality, privacy, transparency


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 5:07am

    And if they have their way, no-one ever will

    Using the data they've collected so far, diligent reporters have already found many of the fake comments were driven by CQ Roll Call, a DC-based news and policy organization, and Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), a "dark money" influence group with historical ties to defending tobacco companies. Who their clients were in this instance should be fairly obvious, but nobody has been able to publicly, directly link the effort to the telecom sector just yet.

    Well, yeah, why else would the FCC fight so hard to keep any information relating to millions of fraudulent comments from being investigated? This is the same FCC that suggested and then supported the death of federal privacy rules regarding companies like Comcast and company, and threw fits when states tried to step in to fill the gap, so the idea that they're withholding the documents because now they care about the privacy of the public is not just a laugh, it's literally unbelievable.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 6:52am

    These brazen liars have demonstrated time and time again their disdain for our Constitution and rule of law, why do they even give a shit anymore about what the public thinks. Soon they will simply declare themselves to be the new aristocracy and everyone has to kiss their collective asses. They might want to reconsider as these things do not turn out the way they are planned.

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

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      "Soon"?

      I guess if you use retro-temporal math to go back to at least FDR, likely even longer.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 7:17am

      Re:

      Every time the government flips from one party to the other, it increases the amount of time this will take. According to Jefferson, every government spoils after too long and must be replaced. This government is long past its expiration date according to every method of measurement possible. Regulatory capture has resulted in a government against the people, instead of for it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2019 @ 7:42am

    So corrupt

    Their argument is basically, "if you had all the information we have, you would have access to millions of users private data"...

    Doesn't this tell us that they have access to millions of users private data that they should not have (since most of it was faked by their cronies)?

    So they should be sued for privacy violations for every persons' information they have (or a fixed amount * the number of commenters faked), and they should have to provide lifetime privacy protection (something like Lifelock, but that works) to EVERY INDIVIDUAL's name who had a comment filed on their behalf (or who filed on their own for those opposing the repeal - we know which way all the fakes voted).

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 9:44am

    When did the Pai FCC call itself "Super Transparent"?

    And when did anyone believe it?

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


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