The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has denied a request by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to turn over documents related to an ongoing investigation into a torrent of fake anti-net neutrality comments that Schneiderman says “corrupted” the agency’s public comment system.
The FCC’s general counsel, Thomas Johnson, sent a letter to Schneiderman (D) on Thursday saying that the commission would not be handing over logs he had requested.
Johnson wrote that “while your letter suggests that the public comment process was somehow ‘corrupted’ by the alleged submission of comments under false names, you offer no evidence that this activity affected the Commission’s ability to review and respond to comments in the record.”
Johnson questioned whether Schneiderman has the authority to investigate a federal agency’s rulemaking process and argued that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did not rely on the fake comments in drafting his proposal to scrap the 2015 net neutrality rules.
He also argued that by handing over the comment logs, the FCC would be putting legitimate commenters’ privacy at risk.
“As in many important rulemakings, this proceeding carries the potential for advocates on either side to abuse the process to create an appearance of numerical advantage,” Johnson wrote. “But the Commission does not make policy decisions merely by tallying the comments on either side of a proposal to determine what position has greater support, nor does it attribute greater weight to comments based on the submitter’s identity.”
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman’s office, said, “Today the FCC make[s] clear that it will continue to obstruct a law enforcement investigation. It’s easy for the FCC to claim that there’s no problem with the process, when they’re hiding the very information that would allow us to determine if there was a problem.”
“This letter shows the FCC’s sheer contempt for public input and unreasonable failure to support integrity in its process,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “To put it simply, there is evidence in the FCC’s files that fraud has occurred and the FCC is telling law enforcement and victims of identity theft that it is not going to help.”