The FCC agreed to pay a journalist $43,000 in settlement to a Freedom of Information Act case filed against the country’s telecommunication regulator over the alleged denial of the agency to turn over data regarding the comment system used by FCC during the time when the system was flooded by comments from alleged stolen identities.
In a court settlement, the Federal Communications Commissioned agreed to settle a case over its refusal to comply with public record request made by freelance writer Jason Prechtel.
In mid-2017, Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, asking for data that would identify who made bulk comment uploads in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules. The request from the journalist followed the allegations that comments were falsely attributed to people without their knowledge.
The agency did not comply with the request and allegedly did not even approve or disapprove the FOIA request within its allotted timeframe. Because of this, Prechtel sued the commission in 2017.
A year following the case filed by Prechtel against the FCC, a US District Court judge presiding over the case ordered the agency to release the requested data and stop withholding records. However, the ruling didn’t give the journalist everything he asked for.
This week, the Federal Communication Commission filed a settlement agreement in court saying that it agrees to pay the freelance writer of $43,000 to cover his attorney’s fees and other court costs. While Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC admit no wrongdoing, the settlement has effectively closed the case filed by Prechtel.
Last month, Prechtel wrote an article for Gizmodo based on the incomplete data that he was able to get from the FCC. The article revealed that investigators were able to link various entities, including a prominent Washington D.C. publication, to “potentially millions of fraudulent comments submitted during the 2017 net neutrality rollback.”
The investigators referred to in the article were from the New York Attorney General’s Office. The investigators are reportedly facing the same challenge as Prechtel in obtaining data from FCC as it faced solid stonewalling from the agency when it requested for data including those that were requested by Prechtel. The investigators eventually determined that up to 9.5 million comments were submitted to FCC’s API system using stolen identities. They said that their investigation is still on-going.
Furthermore, the FBI is also reportedly investigating the use of stolen identity in public comments on the FCC’s system that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules.
According to the article written by Prechtel, the API logs that he was able to obtain following his law suit provided some insights on each time an organization submitted comments using the FCC’s API system.
“What’s more, [the logs] include the IP addresses of the uploaders themselves, as well as timestamps that record, down to the millisecond, precisely when floods of comments came pouring in from any given source,” Prechtel wrote in an article.
In an ongoing separate case, the FCC also refused a New York Times request for records that might shed light on Russian interference in the net neutrality repeal proceeding. The FCC asked for summary judgment for the case from a judge last week.
The FOIA controversy is not the only one that surrounds Ajit Pai and the Federal Communications Commission. In recent months, the government-controlled agency has been pressured by different organizations including telecom providers to resolve the long-standing problem of robocalls that have been terrorizing majority of the American household in the last few years.
While Ajit Pai explicitly expressed his concern over robocalls and called it an actual problem, the behavior of the chief says otherwise. Pai is reportedly supportive of regulations that would loosen up the control over auto dialing that will give robocallers more leeway in continuing their operations.
Recently, comedian and host John Oliver slammed the FCC and Pai over the problems with robocalls. In an episode of Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, he set up a robocalling system to robocall the FCC and its commissioners, including Pai to demonstrate the robocalling problem.
Early this week, telecom companies AT&T and Comcast jointly announced that they would be rolling out later this year a feature that would screen incoming calls and verify them in their bid to help end the robocall pandemic. /apr