Lawsuit: FCC Accused Of Shielding Russia’s Role In Overturning Net Neutrality

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The New York Times filed a lawsuit last week as part of its ongoing effort to obtain information from the FCC.

The New York Times filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission last week for failing to produce information related to its system of gathering public comments on net neutrality, which appears to have been manipulated by Russian actors.

According to HuffPost, The Times said the FCC has ignored Freedom of Information Act requests for the past year as the newspaper attempted to investigate Russian influence on the process.

> Stonewalling by the FCC has made the American public the “victim of an orchestrated campaign by the Russians to corrupt the notice-and-comment process and undermine an important step in the democratic process of rule-making,” states the Times’ lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in U.S.District Court in the Southern District of New York.

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> The agency also ignored similar demands — at least nine times — from the New York attorney general last year as that office investigated millions of suspicious comments.

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> The FCC voted last year to end net neutrality, upending the American internet system. The change allows internet service providers to block, slow down, or charge extra for certain content.

The commission’s comment period was compromised by fraudulent submissions, including comments that appear to have come from Russian bots.

> As many as 2 million comments were fraudulently submitted in other people’s names without their knowledge, and the system was overrun with bots, a favorite tool of the Russians. The system also crashed for a period of time as the FCC was overwhelmed by a massive number of comments supporting net neutrality.

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> FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel revealed in an Op-Ed after the comment debacle that the commission received half a million comments from Russian email addresses, and nearly 8 million comments from email domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com — all with nearly the exact same wording.

The first request for FCC server logs was filed in July 2017 by The Times, which involved “records that will shed light on the extent to which Russian nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest.”

> The FCC refused, saying that fulfilling such a request would breach the privacy of people sending comments, would put security practices at risk and would be overly burdensome.

After numerous attempts to acquire the information over more than a year — and having tried to appease the FCC’s complaints of security concerns and undue burden with several revised requests — the newspaper opted to file suit.

> “We are disappointed that The New York Times has filed suit to collect the commission’s internal web server logs — logs whose disclosure would put at jeopardy the commission’s ... security practices for its Electronic Comment Filing System,” an FCC representative told Ars Technica.

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