The National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative government watchdog, is claiming that “hundreds of thousands of pro-net neutrality comments submitted in recent weeks to the Federal Communications Commission website appear to be fake.”
The allegations are detailed in a report issued on May 31.
Net neutrality is the concept that Internet service providers should enable consumer access to available content and applications without either blocking or giving preferred access to specific content providers. On May 18, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the agency would consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would “propose to restore the Internet to a light-touch regulatory framework by classifying broadband Internet access service as an information service and by seeking comment on the existing rules governing Internet service providers’ practices.”
Pai said he is “setting the FCC on a course to fix the problems that the prior FCC created” by repealing Obama-era Internet regulations. With that backdrop, the FCC initiated a public comment period on net neutrality, a process already interrupted by an alleged attack on the government website by hackers.
Now, the National Legal and Policy Center is crying foul over the comments that have been received .
Its “initial forensic analysis of the FCC’s 2.5 million comments” shows:
More than 465,322 pro-net neutrality comment submissions (close to 20 percent of all pro-net neutrality comments filed) were made “in which either the filers’ names were being submitted with the email address of an obviously different person, or in which the same email address was used to file multiple comments, in some cases thousands of times.”
More than 100,000 examples of identical comments appear to be “generated from a fake email generator program using as many as 10 different e-mail domains. A check of hundreds of these comments “also revealed that the submissions included fake physical addresses and possibly even fake names.”
Comments submitted from multiple filers using various foreign and U.S. email addresses “appear to have been culled from spammer and hacker databases available on the public web.”
“The full breadth of the fake comments at this point is not known,” said National Legal and Policy Center President Peter Flaherty. “But based on an initial forensic analysis, we believe it is massive. Indeed, based on our initial read, almost one fifth (465,322) of all pro-net neutrality comments submitted into the docket appear to have come from email addresses that have made multiple submissions, sometimes with duplicates in the thousands.”
The report alleges that comments submitted from thousands of filers used what appear to be other people’s private email addresses. In one case analyzed, an email address that appears to have been pulled from an Islamic hacker database on the public web was associated with seven different individuals submitting comments.
“We plan to work with a reputable forensics expert and release a full report on the extent of the problem,” Flaherty said. “Gaming a regulatory rulemaking in this way is highly deceptive and completely undermines the integrity of the public comment process. More troubling, the potential privacy breach of knowingly using other people’s email addresses without their permission to submit comments would be unprecedented.”
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