Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Image: United States Senate
Two lawmakers say they were among those who had their identities hijacked as part of a rash of bogus comments posted to the FCC’s website during the public comment period of last’ year’s repeal. The duo have demanded the FCC take steps to identify the culprit and prevent it from occurring during future proceedings. Throughout 2017, an unidentified culprit easily abused a lack of basic protections at the FCC website to flood the net neutrality proceeding with fake comments. In some instances the scammers used the identities of real people (like myself) to support the unpopular effort. In other instances, the names of dead people were hijacked for the same purpose.
Thus far, the agency has proven entirely apathetic to the problems created by the fraudulent behavior. In a letter sent to the FCC this week, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) stated that they were among those that had their identities stolen in this fashion, and urged the FCC to “identify and address fraudulent behavior” that led to more than 2 million such bogus comments being filed during the repeal.“Late last year, the identities of as many as two million Americans were stolen and used to file fake comments during the FCC’s comment period for the net neutrality rule,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Pai. “We were among those whose identities were misused to express viewpoints we do not hold. We are writing to express our concerns about these fake comments and the need to identify and address fraudulent behavior in the rulemaking process.” The FCC’s website does little to nothing to protect the integrity of the comment process. As a result, someone was able to use a bot to spam the proceeding with millions of bogus comments, many of which were posted in alphabetical order. Most of the comments followed a script that falsely claimed the consumer protections “smothered innovation.” The two Senators asked the FCC what it’s doing to address future fraud, and urged the agency to employ some kind of CAPTCHA system to thwart similar behavior in the future. “The federal rulemaking process is an essential part of our democracy and allows Americans the opportunity to express their opinions on how government agencies decide important regulatory issues,” the Senators wrote. “As such, we are concerned about the aforementioned fraudulent activity. We need to prevent the deliberate misuse of Americans’ personal information and ensure that the FCC is working to protect against current and future vulnerabilities in its system.” The FCC so far has shown no interest in addressing the problem, in part because many of the comments supported their initiative. Not only has the FCC refused to implement systems to protect the integrity of the comment process, Ajit Pai’s agency has been accused of actively blocking a law enforcement investigation into who was behind the effort. “People are losing faith in their democracy,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of pro-net neutrality group Fight for the Future. “The FCC’s repeal of net neutrality is set to go into effect in a matter of weeks, despite the fact that the process around it has been riddled with serious issues of fraud and abuse that the agency has thus far refused to address,” said Greer. “These Senators are asking exactly the right questions.”Analysis of the comments received by the FCC continue to show that the vast majority of (real) Americans strongly oppose the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, which formally takes effect on June 11.