Judge Orders FCC To Hand Over Data On Fake Net Neutrality Comments

from the plot-thickens 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 (myself included) had their identities used to support Pai's unpopular plan, as did several Senators. The Trump FCC stonewalled both law enforcement and journalist inquiries into who was behind the comments, and why the FCC didn't lift a finger to either stop them or to help identify those responsible.

Numerous journalists like Jason Prechtel 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. Thanks to that effort, early last year, Gizmodo's Dell Cameron worked with Prechtel to link some of the fake comments to Trump associates and some DC lobbying shops like CQ Roll Call. Then late last year, Buzzfeed's Kevin Collier and Jeremy-Singer Vine showed how, unsurprisingly, the broadband industry funded at least some of the fraudulent efforts.

Meanwhile two reporters for the New York Times, Nicholas Confessore and Gabriel Dance, sued the FCC under the Freedom of Information Act after the agency refused to reveal logs that could show the IP addresses used to submit the mass comments. Last week, a Manhattan federal judge hand over copies of the logs to both Confessore and Dance:

"The FCC attempted to quash the paper’s request but failed to persuade District Judge Lorna Schofield, who wrote that, despite the privacy concerns raised by the agency, releasing the logs may help clarify whether fraudulent activity interfered with the comment period, as well as whether the agency’s decision-making process is “vulnerable to corruption."

Keep in mind this sort of thing wasn't a one off; numerous regulatory agencies have been plagued by similar efforts for years. Generating bogus support for shitty government policy is now just an additional service many law, lobbying, and PR firms offer corporations and clients as an added service. But much like astroturfing -- which often extends to real world protests -- it's such an obscure concept to most people it never warrants a second thought. But it's ethically grotesque all the same, especially given it pollutes some of the only opportunities the public has to comment on harmful government policies.

At this point there's enough evidence to reasonably conclude that the broadband industry and GOP hired a bunch of K Street firms to "stuff the ballot box," and the FCC -- likely knowing the broadband industry's involvement -- took steps to try and help cover it up. This lawsuit is likely to reveal even more data to help bolster that conclusion. The question now is whether the courts (or anybody else) will actually care, and whether anybody's going to do anything about it.

Filed Under: ajit pai, comments, fcc, foia, net neutrality, transparency
Companies: ny times


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  • identicon
    ryuugami, 5 May 2020 @ 6:45am

    At this point there's enough evidence to reasonably conclude that the broadband industry and GOP hired a bunch of K Street firms to "stuff the ballot box"

    GOP committing voter fraud? Shocking. Ab-so-lutely shocking.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 7:24am

      Re:

      They're the only ones who do, generally. There's little normal incentive for a person to risk imprisonment or deportation in order to cast a single vote, but the true believers sometimes get caught when they try a stunt to prove it exists.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 8:45am

        Re: Re:

        I guess Chicago and its history of ballet fraud is somehow controlled by the GOP now?

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

      • identicon
        OGquaker, 5 May 2020 @ 3:24pm

        Re: Re: 10 years ago

        Fellow representatives (me, my wife and daughter) of the California Green Party sat down at the 20ft conference table at 6:30pm one day on the 6th floor of the LACounty Recorders office with Connie McCormick and her Lt. to go over the details of an up-coming 'election' count. Many items were discussed; the lack of public visibility of the compiling computer (a window was added later) Cat-5 cables leaving that machine up through ceiling tiles, "donated" parallel Dell computers (with WiFi and three outside walls of glass in the counting room) at each of the dozen tally SOS-approved computers - both using the same keyboard, and a 6ft tall 19inch rack in an adjacent room, "donated" by Cisco. Promises were made that the rack "would be turned off on election day". I pursued the loss of custody when mail-in ballots were separated from envelopes in the days before vote day, killing voter fraud prosecutions. I approached from a few arguments, she blurted out "We don't use the word Fraud!".
        My child had lurned a lot that day:(

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 6:49am

    Logically Correct But Linguistically Challenged Judge

    "...the logs may help clarify whether fraudulent activity interfered with the comment period, as well as whether the agency’s decision-making process is 'vulnerable to corruption.'"

    "...the logs will help clarify that fraudulent activity interfered with the comment period, as well as that the agency’s decision-making process is 'corrupt.'"

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 7:21am

    "At this point there's enough evidence to reasonably conclude that the broadband industry and GOP hired a bunch of K Street firms to "stuff the ballot box"

    I would have thought that thousands of ordinary people voting to approve a measure to reduce the quality and increase the cost of their services would have been enough evidence, though granted there's some popular propaganda outfits that might have got some grassroots support.

    Once again I'm glad that the concept of net neutrality is not in question anywhere outside of the US and is naturally protected by effective regulation.

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

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 5 May 2020 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      China, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, DR Congo, Ghana, Israel, Syria, Mauritania, Libya, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Thailand, Philippines, Russia, Uzbekistan, Hungary and Venezuela; all have no net neutrality. Unless you consider their Gulag's free speech zones.

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

      • identicon
        AnonyOps, 5 May 2020 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re:

        I forgot to add Myanmar to the list.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 8:23am

        Re: Re:

        OK, without the source you use to compile that I'll revise my statement to the developed world, or democratic world. My point largely stands, though.

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

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 3:12am

        Re: Re:

        "...all have no net neutrality."

        I don't think you really understand what this term means, but the most important thing to remember is that if you have healthy competition in the ISP market then you have net neutrality by default. It shouldn't be something that even needs specific legislation. If your customers have somewhere better to take their business then you try much harder not to piss them off.

        So unless your list of countries is also coincidentally a list of countries with low ISP competition then it's not very relevant.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 4:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "if you have healthy competition in the ISP market then you have net neutrality by default"

          Well, not necessarily, but it does mean that it is more naturally protected. The main reason why an ISP would violate net neutrality is to give themselves an unfair competitive advantage in non-ISP related activities, for example by ensuring that Netflix performs worse than their own video offering, or that Netflix counts toward their bandwidth cap while their own service does not.

          Without competition, the effect of this can be for people to use their offering instead of Netflix. With competition, the more likely effect is that they will move to an ISP where Netflix works properly, and they're less likely to have the bandwidth caps in the first place.

          "So unless your list of countries is also coincidentally a list of countries with low ISP competition then it's not very relevant."

          He seems to be conflating censorship with net neutrality, which is a bad position. You can censor while keeping packets neutral, while you can violate net neutrality in all sorts of ways that's not censoring the content.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 8:34am

    I fully expect the FCC to thumb their nose at this order.
    There do not seem to be consequences anymore (if there ever was) for contempt of court/congress by an federal agency.

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 8:42am

    Question for Karl Bode:

    Usually Techdirt has a PDF of the court PDF documents. Why not this time?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 9:06am

    'Oh that data? Yeah, bad news on that...'

    Given how focused they have been on keeping that data out of the hands of the public(and given what's been discovered when they didn't manage it I'm not surprised) I expect that they'll either fight the order and/or the data will suffer an 'unfortunate technical issue' and end up corrupted or gone entirely. I mean really, what's a judge going to do at that point, issue a stern warning not to do it again?

    Alternatively they could just hand it all over with no fuss, because at this point it's not like a judge is going to do anything to them for allowing blatant fraud, and there likely isn't enough political gain to be made from raking them over the coals for it so I doubt more than one or two politicians could be bothered.

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

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 9:48am

    So.. they finally hand over the logs and people comb through them and do find a proof. Then what? "We found bad acting going on, you need to undo the changes you made and hold another comment period." "OK, that will take about 3 years or so to undo."? I mean it is pretty much a fait accompli at this point, it is easier for them to beg for forgiveness then it is for them to fix the issue.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      ...what do you mean by "fix the issue"?

      The issue is that they reversed the previous FCC's net neutrality order classifying broadband as a Title II common carrier.

      A court can reverse that decision and say that the process was improper, void the new rules, and go back to the old ones. I have no idea where you're getting the idea that "that will take 3 years". The FCC can appeal, and almost certainly will if Pai is still in charge, but...I don't know if you've heard but there's an election in November? We may have a different FCC in the next nine months.

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

      • icon
        Nathan F (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 10:53am

        Re: Re:

        These rules and regulations aren't really things that can be changed overnight. Any change to laws has to get published with enough lead time before enforcement for those effected by it to make process changes to comply. The FCC can just drag their feet on when the enforcement date is.

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

        • icon
          bhull242 (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 1:18pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Here’s the issue: when the court voids a change made, those requirements don’t apply. The FCC has to publish the changes that they make with enough lead time, but not the court’s decision to void that those changes. Such court decisions are effectively retroactive in a sense: it’s as if the changes never happened in the first place.

          More importantly, I’m fairly certain that the judge can set deadlines for changes to take effect.

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 3:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          These rules and regulations aren't really things that can be changed overnight. Any change to laws has to get published with enough lead time before enforcement for those effected by it to make process changes to comply.

          I think you're confusing the process for passing a regulation with the process for striking one down. If the courts strike down a regulation (and the government is out of appeals), then they can't just continue behaving as if that regulation is still in place.

          The FCC can just drag their feet on when the enforcement date is.

          Well, yes, or just choose not to enforce it at all. But that doesn't mean the regulation hasn't changed. It just means the FCC isn't enforcing it.

          There are plenty of other regulations the FCC, and other regulatory agencies at present, are choosing not to enforce. That doesn't mean they're not regulations.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 11:51am

    Catching a thief..

    What happens when you have the evidence to Arrest/hold/blame someone for Something they did/something wrong/for any incidence.

    He either gets smarter or the next one learns from that ones mistakes..

    Its interesting that the info contained May Have, finger prints on it. The links to the companies that sent them. Which generally means they didnt know what they were doing. they could of faked the original Sending locations, they could of used a bot net to send in from random locations. But this seems more Like a RUSHED instance to stop something, or a LOW paid instance to do the same, or even, a slam-bam effort by those that didnt know what they were doing, at all.
    Wasnt there another instance with the Demo party trying to use smart phones to monitor internal elections..
    Anyone notice how BAD programming is in the gov.?? This seems more of a parade then REAL gov. getting Good programmers to do something..
    OH! Wait. Didnt we have Tech Czars and internet Czars, and all of them have been FIRED?? Probably because they wanted to update all the Gov. hardware..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 12:04pm

    the main things that need to come out of this are that Pai loses his job and is subsequently prosecuted for failing in the terms of his position by ignoring the public (his main aim is to protect), by bending to every whim of the broadband companies and for repealing Net Neutrality using the falsified comments as backing to do so. trouble is, we all know it wont happen! he'll be 'Trump protected'!!

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 4:39pm

      Re:

      Which means...
      That the Corps WHO could hold it up in court for years or until Pai is dead and it has no meaning..
      NEED to find a way to Fix this..Good bye Mr. Pai.
      Sorry you couldnt have the Job we promised.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 5 May 2020 @ 2:32pm

    The question now is whether the courts (or anybody else) will actually care, and whether anybody's going to do anything about it.

    Actually the question is whether the FCC will actually hand over the data or just ignore the order. Trump might even tell them to claim executive privilege. It's not like the DoJ is going to enforce such an order.

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

  • identicon
    OGquaker, 5 May 2020 @ 5:27pm

    My name (in an odd, unique configuration i seldom use) was listed "supporting" Sht,Pile's tripe, supporting the FCC & Telcos assault on the US public.

    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, 5 May 2020 @ 5:44pm

    Richard Bennett's not going to like this, is he?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 6:12pm

    FCC response: we lack information distribution authority.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 7:56pm

    The web wasn't designed to be neutral.

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

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 5 May 2020 @ 8:26pm

      Re:

      The web wasn't designed to be neutral.

      But the net was.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 9:49pm

        Re: Re:

        How you going to get the LSD and human trafficking off it? That's still an offence to all civilizations.

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

        • icon
          ECA (profile), 5 May 2020 @ 11:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Thats as if you KNOW every nation, and every people..
          DO YOU??
          It wasnt long ago that even in the USA we got rid of children if we had to many we gave them to others..
          And what about adoption groups.. really. it would be very easy to create one that is a backdrop for SUCH A THING.

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

        • identicon
          ryuugami, 6 May 2020 @ 12:28am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How you going to get the LSD and human trafficking off it? That's still an offence to all civilizations.

          Ah, I see you subscribe to the "if I don't see it, it ain't happening" approach to crime-fighting, as exemplified by that SESTA/FOSTA debacle.

          Here's an alternative suggestion: use the information criminals put out to find them and catch them.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 1:04am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "How you going to get the LSD and human trafficking off it?"

          By going after the activity itself rather than pretending that it won't happen if you can just hide it?

          I'd certainly rather live in a world where that stuff is visible but law enforcement uses that public visibility to help stop it, than a world where we pretend that there's a magic level of censorship that makes it go away on its own.

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

      • identicon
        OGquaker, 6 May 2020 @ 5:08am

        Re: Re:

        Until they put Jon Postel in a grave

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 12:03am

      Re:

      Why not??
      There are different ways and means to be Neutral.
      There are a few things we want buried in our past.
      There are Some that cant figure out HOW things got the way they are, and love to point fingers.
      There are people that would like answers, to LIFE, that isnt their parents.
      Those that MAKE the net need to be neutral to a certain point. Good honest people, as a group DO make a nice monitor system.

      Basic simple rules..that even an IDIOT can understand. NOT a 36 page TOS and other agreements.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 11:49am

    Someone Not a conspiracy idiot said?

    "Generating bogus support for shitty government policy is now just an additional service many law, lobbying, and PR firms offer corporations and clients as an added service."

    HOW hard would it be to do certain things in this country to FAVOR 1-2 certain groups or people..

    LEts create some small agencies that have the ability to Print letters or even Write them, or even leve them Blank, with All the right info on the Outside...as long as no one looks, its legal/its real/ its anything we want to say..(checks and balance??)

    How hard was it int he past to setup fake People. Give them a simulated life and history, then replicate them into More then 1 state. SS# were not given at birth only after you hit 14-16. In many states the Birth death records were a mess, and its Hard to match up LISTS of dead with no matching correspondence to "JOHN DOE", or any name, if you didnt match it to a SS# or other ID...PROVEN ID?? (star card anyone??) The Stock pile of Data on paper IS HUGE, and the DOT/DMV in many cases dumps the photo's after a few years, and the Police system, NEVER brings up a photo of the person they stopped.. UNTIL RECENTLY(maybe).. Love those Fake ID and Drivers license.
    Anyone need a birth certificate?? Even with a Picture, a 12 year old has little chance of matching the picture.

    HOW to solve 1/2 the problems?? register everyone. Have them Prove themselves. Take New pictures every few years until they are 40.
    Then there is 1 other thing.
    A person can be born here, then move to another state, and then work in another.. Unless there is a matching SS# thats TAGGED to that person, permanently..(need a tattoo removed?) We would need a Central location for ALL records. (what a target for the internet)
    Considering how well our Gov. has done in recent past.. NO NO NO NO NO...
    But there WAS/IS a target like that. The Credit agencies, and 1 of them was hit hard. and every ones exposed DATA got them about $1 in recompense, IF they got anything.

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


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