Seems like there’s a lot of fakery in Washington these days — not just involving the President’s dim view of the Fourth Estate or bogus Time magazine cover.
Today, House Committee on Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe to investigate whether bots flooded the FCC with thousands of fake comments favoring a weakening of net neutrality protections.
Those behind the filings “may be attempting to influence federal policy by publicly misrepresenting the views of innocent victims,” Pallone says in his request. “As part of its online comment filing system, the FCC is also publicly listing these victims’ private information, including their addresses, making this situation more urgent.”
ZDNet reported last month that a bot had filed thousands of comments supporting a weakening of the net neutrality rules. When it reached out to some of the people listed as having filed comments, several denied having done so.
This week, 27 people wrote to FCC chairman Ajit Pai saying their names had been attached to comments that they didn’t file.
“Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, publicly exposed our private information without our permission, and used our identities to file a political statement we did not sign onto,” they wrote. “Hundreds of thousands of other Americans may have been victimized too.”
At issue is an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last month: It would undo the agency’s 2015 decision to enforce open Internet rules under Title II of the Communications Act. That empowers the FCC to regulate the medium as a common carrier similar to phones.
The FCC will seek public comment up to August 16 — and could vote on the matter as early as October.
Pai — along with Internet service providers led by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon — wants to go back to Title I, which gives the agency less clout to regulate Internet distribution.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. overturned the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules saying that Title I didn’t give regulators sufficient authority to act.
The new questions regarding the FCC’s comment system follow its report that it was hit with multiple denial of service attacks that interfered with comments filed beginning late May 7 — just as HBO’s John Oliver called on viewers to write in support of the current net neutrality rules.
Automated bots accessed the FCC’s computer system faster than individual writers. As a result, “new human users were blocked from visiting the comment filing system,” Pai said in a letter this month to senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who asked about the situation.
Pai added that those wanting to comment “would have been able to file later in the day or in the days that followed.”
The FCC has received 5.06 million comments about net neutrality, more than any previous proceeding.
Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a group that supports Pai’s effort to relax net neutrality regulations, said this week its count showed that 65% of the comments side with the FCC chairman.