The FBI Is Now Looking Into Those Bogus Net Neutrality Comments
from the ill-communication dept
So we already knew numerous reporters, the GAO, and the New York State AG’s office are already looking into who was behind the millions of bogus comments that plagued the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. And we’ve already noted how the Ajit Pai FCC has been trying its very best to hinder those inquiries, whether we’re talking about the way that it has been blocking and stalling on journalist FOIA requests, or actively ignoring numerous, previous inquiries from law enforcement.
The FCC’s efforts to obfuscate the culprit by refusing to share data on this subject may have just become more… complicated. Over the weekend, Daily Beast reporter Kevin Collier noted that two additional AG’s offices (Massachusetts and Washington, DC) — and the FBI — have also started digging into those fake comments as well:
“The Justice Department is investigating whether crimes were committed when potentially millions of people’s identities were posted to the FCC’s website without their permission, falsely attributing to them opinions about net neutrality rules, BuzzFeed News has learned. Two organizations told BuzzFeed News, each on condition that they not be named, that the FBI delivered subpoenas to them related to the comments.”
New York’s AG began its investigation last year, but stated in a public letter a year ago that the FCC had actively blocked all efforts by the AG to obtain server, API, and other data that could help identify who was behind the fraudulent comments, some of them mysteriously made by dead people. The AG’s office stated Pai’s office ignored nine inquiries over a period of five months for more details:
“We made our request for logs and other records at least 9 times over 5 months: in June, July, August, September, October (three times), and November.
We reached out for assistance to multiple top FCC officials, including you, three successive acting FCC General Counsels, and the FCC’s Inspector General. We offered to keep the requested records confidential, as we had done when my office and the FCC shared information and documents as part of past investigative work.
Yet we have received no substantive response to our investigative requests. None.”
According to the NY AG’s office, about 9.5 million of the more than 22 million comments filed with the FCC during the repeal’s open comment period were filed using peoples’ names without their consent (including my own and those of two Senators). Last October, the New York AG announced they had expanded their probe, issuing subpoenas to both numerous ISP-linked lobbying and policy organizations (like the industry’s dubious Broadband for America policy vessel) as well as a few pro net neutrality consumer groups.
Last week, numerous outlets falsely reported that “Russia” was behind these comments. There’s no actual evidence of that (500,000 Russian email addresses were used, but that doesn’t mean Russia itself was involved). As we’ve seen during the similar bogus comments plaguing other US government proceedings in recent years, the usual culprit is almost always the companies that stand to benefit from the regulatory efforts in question, since there’s several DC policy shops that apparently sell these kinds of services (read: bogus support for terrible policies) as a value added service.
And while it’s pretty clear that the Ajit Pai FCC doesn’t want anybody knowing which firm tried to stuff the ballot box and who was funding the initiative, the involvement of the DOJ and several additional AG offices means hiding the truth just got immeasurably more difficult. And depending what investigators find, that could seriously complicate next February’s opening arguments in the net neutrality lawsuit against the FCC, which, if the FCC and its ISP allies lose, could end with the restoration of the FCC’s 2015 rules, bringing us fill circle.
If it turns out the broadband industry or some proxy organization paid a DC lobbying firm to stuff the ballot box (which has always seemed the most likely explanation given historical precedent), such a self-inflicted wound would be utterly legendary.