As the FCC continues to thwart Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) attempts to shine more light on the bogus comments that plagued the agency’s net neutrality repeal, one of the FCC’s commissioners has accused her own agency of “thwarting” journalism and hiding the truth.
The New York Times and other outlets recently sued the FCC, stating the agency is blocking efforts by journalists and consumer groups to discover who was behind the millions of bogus comments that plagued the FCC’s net neutrality repeal late last year.
Countless consumers (including myself) and several Senators say they had their identities lifted and used to support the FCC’s repeal during the agency’s public comment period, the only opportunity most Americans had to make their views known on the subject. Evidence suggests hackers used bots and a compromised database to flood the proceeding with bogus support.
But the FCC has consistently fought against FOIA requests for server, API, email, IP address, and other data that could help identify the culprit. The New York Times complaint against the FCC says the outlet "exhausted all administrative remedies” by repeatedly narrowing the scope of its requests over a period of several months, all to no avail.
Other journalists like Jason Prechtel have sued the FCC in a bid to get to the truth about who manipulated the FCC comment system, and who may have bankrolled the effort.
In a November memorandum opinion and order released this week for the first time, the FCC attempts to claim numerous FOIA exemptions prohibit the agency from releasing data essential to identifying the culprits. Both FOIA Exemption 6 (designed to protect personal privacy) and Exemption 7E (designed to protect the security) are cited by the FCC as justification.
FCC lawyers also tried to claim that journalists don’t actually need access to the data because there’s numerous other investigations ongoing into the scandal, including one at the GAO.
Times reporter Nicholas Confessore "has not provided us with any reason to believe that his review of this data would significantly advance any public interest beyond the investigations that are already underway,” the agency said in its rejection of the FOIA requests.
That’s a curious claim, since the Ajit Pai FCC has refused to cooperate with said investigations as well. The New York Attorney General’s office, for example, stated in an open letter last November that the FCC ignored nine inquires over a period of five months looking for server logs or other information in a bid to discover who was behind millions of bogus comments.
The FCC did not respond to a Motherboard request for comment.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, for her part, wasn’t particularly impressed with the FCC’s justification of the FOIA blockade, and took to Twitter to accuse her own agency of hindering journalism, hiding the truth, and potentially violating the law.
“Instead of providing news organizations with the information requested, in this decision the FCC decides to hide behind Freedom of Information Act exemptions and thwart investigative journalism,” Rosenworcel said in a public statement.
Rosenworcel’s press representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Rosenworcel criticized the agency’s “overbroad claims” of FOIA exemption, and implied the agency had lost much of its credibility when other FOIA requests found the Pai FCC completely made up a DDOS attack—presumably to try and downplay public backlash to its policies.
“It appears this agency is trying to prevent anyone from looking too closely at the mess it made of net neutrality,” said the Commissioner. “It is hiding what it knows about the fraud in our record and it is preventing an honest account of its many problems from seeing the light of day.”
You can expect the FCC’s failure to assist inquiries into this scandal to play a starring role during the upcoming lawsuits against the FCC, the opening arguments for which are slated to begin next February.