Net Neutrality: Fraudulent identities used “to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process”

A letter signed by the New York State Attorney General has accused the FCC of refusing to cooperate with an investigation into the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities to corrupt the public comment process with regards to altering net neutrality rules.

Eric T. Schneiderman claims his office has been investigating, for the past six months, who perpetrated a large scheme where ‘enormous numbers’ of identities were fraudulently used to drown out the views and concerns of citizens and businesses.

Researchers and reporters discovered enormous numbers of fake comments

Schneiderman notes this conduct likely violates state law, and yet “the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that law enforcement investigation to proceed.”

The notice and comment process allows citizens and businesses to share their valuable opinions. With how far-reaching and impacting net neutrality rules are, there’s certainly an abundance of opinions to be voiced.

“For my part, I have long publicly advocated for strong net neutrality rules under the Title II of the Communications Act,” wrote Schneiderman in the letter. “Studies show that the overwhelming majority of Americans who took the time to write public comments to the FCC about the issue feel the same way while a very small minority favor repeal.

While stopping short of directly accusing the FCC of foul play, it’s clear Schneiderman is questioning the reluctance of the regulator to aid his office’s investigation. The FCC has a duty to protect consumers so it should be in their interests to find out who is corrupting their processes.

Government agencies should want to help in these endeavors and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The discovery was made back in May when researchers and reporters discovered enormous numbers of fake comments concerning the possible repeal of net neutrality rules were being posted. Furthermore, many used real names and addresses — which Schneiderman notes is akin to identity theft.

“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,” wrote Schneiderman. “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.”

Schneiderman and his team reached out to multiple FCC officials — including three successive acting FCC General Counsels, and the FCC’s Inspector General — and offered to keep the records confidential.

Many, including Telecoms, noted the FCC decided to announce its decision to repeal the net neutrality rules just before Thanksgiving when many journalists are out the office. Using the run up to public holidays for controversial announcements is a tactic often used by lawmakers to help slip controversial legislation under the radar.

Law enforcement should be free to investigate identity fraud wherever it occurs, but especially when it’s on this scale. Other government agencies should want to help in these endeavors and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Are you concerned by the FCC’s reluctance to assist the investigation? Let us know in the comments.

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