Senators To FCC: Why Were Our Names In Fake Net Neutrality Posts?

Two U.S. Senators, one Democrat and one Republican, who voted last week on opposite sides of the net neutrality issue, wrote a letter to Federal Communications Chair Ajit Pai on Monday asking why their identities were stolen and used to post fake comments on the FCC web site during the public comment period leading up to the FCC vote repealing net neutrality rules.

An estimated 2 million comments posted on the site during the comment period before the December FCC vote, at which the commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal the Obama era open internet rules, were found to be bogus, posted under stolen identities of actual Americans.

Now, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkely and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey say that theirs were among the two million identities stolen and used to post fake comments—and they want to know why.

“Late last year, the identities of as many as two million Americans were stolen and used to file fake comments during the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) comment period for the net neutrality rule,” the two senators wrote in their 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.”

Identity theft, even using someone else’s name to sign an internet posting, is a crime in many states. In December, investigators found evidence that even the names of deceased Americans were being used to post the comments in the net neutrality debate. 

In December, Pai refused to order the fake comments deleted from the FCC site or even to investigate how the fake comments were posted. But in January, the Government Accountability Office said it would open an investigation into the fake comments, and while it is unknown whether that investigation has been completed, what is known is that its results have not been released.

The two senators now want Pai to deal with the fraud himself. They also demanded to know how the FCC is coordinating with the Justice Department or state attorneys general to track down where the fake comments came from, and how many of the comments were generated by “bots”—that is, automated programs that post comments automatically.

Pai has not commented on the letter from the two senators.

The full text of the Senators’ letter may be read at this link. The net neutrality rules, preventing internet access providers from slowing or blocking traffic to some sites while creating an “internet fast lane” for sites which can pay big bucks for the privilege, are set to be revoked on June 11. But while the Senate has already voted to keep the net neutrality rules in place, Democrats in the House are now making efforts to bring that same issue a vote. 

Photo courtesy Slowking / Wikimedia Commons 

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