The FCC’s public comment system is a bloody mess. Over the past two years, it’s become apparent that political lobbyists, usually acting on behalf of the telecom industry itself, are prepared to manipulate the agency’s rulemaking process and impersonate everyday Americans just to create the illusion of public support where, in reality, none exists.
Last week, the FCC was forced to admit in court that its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) was never designed to keep track of where comments originate. Not only is the system not designed to prevent fraud or the use of bots, it said, when incidents of identity theft are widely reported, the system is not equipped to determine who’s responsible.
In response to allegations that millions of comments submitted to the FCC about net neutrality in 2017 were fabricated—using the names and home addresses of Americans without their consent — the New York Times is actively seeking access to the FCC’s internal logs under the Freedom of Information Act.
Its reporters have specifically asked the FCC to turn over records that contain every comment and the IP addresses from which they originated. But the commission is fighting back.
For starters, the FCC is denying the Times access to these records on privacy grounds: releasing the IP addresses, it says, would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” It further alleges that releasing the logs would compromise the security of the ECFS, which is essentially a crime scene at this point thanks to concurrent state and federal investigations.