reader comments 66
Fourteen people who say their names and addresses were attached to anti-net neutrality comments without their permission have asked the US Federal Communications Commission to notify other victims of the impersonation and remove fraudulent comments from the net neutrality docket.previously reported, there have been hundreds of thousands of identical comments that were ostensibly submitted to the FCC by ordinary people who hate the current net neutrality rules. But the comments appear to have been submitted by spam bots and attached to names drawn from data breaches.
People who say they were impersonated sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. In it, they wrote the following:
We are disturbed by reports that indicate you have no plans to remove these fraudulent comments from the public docket. Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, publicly exposed our private information without our permission, and used our identities to file a political statement we did not sign onto. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans may have been victimized, too.
Net neutrality activist group Fight for the Future coordinated the letter. The group also set up the “Comcastroturf” website that makes it easy to search the FCC net neutrality docket for your name.
“While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position, it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack,” the letter to Pai also said.
The letter asked Pai to take the following actions:
- Notify all who have been impacted by this attack.
- Remove all of the fraudulent comments, including the ones made in our names, from the public docket immediately.
- Publicly disclose any information the FCC may have about the group or person behind the 450,000+ fake comments.
- Call for an investigation by the appropriate authorities into possible violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (“making false statements”) and other relevant laws.
Spammers’ identity unclear
The identical comments supporting Pai’s proposed rollback of net neutrality rules say, “The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the Internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy, and obstructing job creation… The plan currently under consideration at the FCC to repeal Obama’s Title II power grab is a positive step forward and will help to promote a truly free and open Internet for everyone.”Center For Individual Freedom (CFIF), but CFIF says it is not filing comments under people’s names without their knowledge. The identity of people running the spam bots is unknown. Fight for the Future suggests on its Comcastrotruf website that Comcast might be funding the effort, but CFIF offers no proof to support the accusation. Comcast sent a cease-and-desist letter attempting to gain control over the Comcastroturf.com domain, but it later agreed to take no further action.
There are more than 2.6 million comments on the net neutrality docket, and the FCC will continue to take public input until August 16.
Pai acknowledged the existence of fake comments in a press conference after this month’s preliminary net neutrality vote. He said:
This is an issue that’s impacted me personally as hundreds of comments… have been submitted under my own name. Now there’s obviously a tension between having an open process where it’s easy to comment and preventing questionable comments from being filed, and, generally speaking, this agency has erred on the side of openness. We want to encourage people to participate in as easy an accessible a way as possible.
The comment system has also been hit by what may have been DDoS attacks.
When contacted by Ars today, an FCC spokesperson pointed back to Pai’s previous statement but declined to comment on the letter from impersonation victims.