Hundreds of thousands of Americans’ identities have been stolen by bots to post anti-net neutrality comments on the Federal Communication Commission’s website, and now New York’s Attorney General is imploring FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to take it seriously before he kills the internet as we know it.
In an open letter published on Medium Tuesday, Eric Schneiderman warned that the FCC’s notice and comment process, the online mechanism citizens can use to publicly comment on upcoming policies, has been totally coopted by bots posing as real people.
After Pai announced in April that the FCC would be taking comments on the issue of net neutrality, they received over 22 million responses. There was just one problem: in October an independent analytics team analyzed those responses and found that only 17 percent were actually unique. The rest were being submitted in bulk with uniform messages.
The analytics team (employed by Gravwell) also found that the unique comments were overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality — while the bot comments were not.
This issue of pseudo-comments being posted to the FCC’s site actually dates further back than October. In May, journalists already discovered that fake comments were being submitted using real citizens’ names and addresses. Over 120,000 comments at the time read as thus:
The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation,” the comment says. “I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years.
Following that news, Schneiderman says his office launched an investigation, and asked the FCC for logs and records related to the identity thefts, at least nine different times.
But the FCC doesn’t appear to be interested in dealing with the issue whatsoever, as Schneiderman is now saying that they haven’t cooperated with his investigation:
“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.”
Although Schniederman says he is personally pro-net neutrality, that isn’t actually the issue at hand. “It’s about the right to control one’s own identity and prevent the corruption of a process designed to solicit the opinion of real people and institutions,” he says.
Schneiderman ends his letter by urging Pai to release the FCC’s records to help in his investigation, mentioning that as the trend of foreign actors trying to intervene in American politics appears to continue, it’s more important than ever that government decision-making processes do their best to remain immune.