Weekly Feature



2017-11-29 / Local News

Schneiderman to FCC: Net Neutrality public comment process corrupted

As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced its plan to dismantle the net neutrality regulations that ensure a free and open internet, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released an open letter regarding the massive scheme to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real Americans’ identities. That scheme is under investigation by the AG’s office.

In May 2017, researchers and reporters discovered that the FCC’s public comment process was being corrupted by the submission of enormous numbers of fake comments concerning the possible repeal of net neutrality rules. The AG’s office analyzed the fake comments and found that tens of thousands of New Yorkers — and hundreds of thousands of Americans — may have had their identities misused. While some of these fake comments used made up names and addresses, many misused the real names and addresses of actual people as part of the effort to undermine the integrity of the comment process.

The AG’s office reached out for assistance to multiple top FCC officials, including Pai, three successive acting FCC general counsels, and the FCC's inspector general, but has received no substantive response to its investigative requests.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans likely were victimized during the FCC's public comment process on net neutrality. That’s akin to identity theft, and it happened on a massive scale,” wrote Schneiderman in his open letter. “I encourage the FCC to reconsider its refusal to assist in my office’s law enforcement investigation to identify and hold accountable those who illegally misused so many New Yorkers’ identities to corrupt the public comment process."

Schneiderman’s letter continues: “Recent press reports suggest that the Federal Communications Commission soon will release rules to dismantle the agency’s existing ‘net neutrality’ protections under Title II of the Communications Act, which shield the public from anti-consumer behaviors of the giant cable companies that provide high-speed internet to most people. In today’s digital age, the rules that govern the operation and delivery of internet service to hundreds of millions of Americans are critical to the economic and social well-being of the nation. Yet the process the FCC has employed to consider potentially sweeping alterations to current net neutrality rules has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities and the FCC has been unwilling to assist my office in our efforts to investigate this unlawful activity.

My office analyzed the fake comments and found that tens of thousands of New Yorkers may have had their identities misused in this way. Impersonation and other misuse of a person’s identity violates New York law, so my office launched an investigation.

Successfully investigating this sort of illegal conduct requires the participation of the agency whose system was attacked. So in June 2017, we contacted the FCC to request certain records related to its public comment system that were necessary to investigate which bad actor or actors were behind the misconduct. We made our request for logs and other records at least nine times over five months: in June, July, August, September, October and November.

We all have a powerful reason to hold accountable those who would steal Americans’ identities and assault the public’s right to be heard in government rulemaking. If law enforcement can’t investigate and prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again. I encourage the FCC to reconsider its refusal to assist in my office’s law enforcement investigation to identify and hold accountable those who illegally misused so many New Yorkers’ identities to corrupt the public comment process. In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes.

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