FCC ordered to provide IP addresses tied to fake net neutrality comments

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai drinks from a big coffee cup during a commission meeting December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. The FCC is scheduled to vote on a proposal to repeal net-neutrality. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The FCC might not have much choice but to hand over data logs for fake net neutrality comments. A federal judge has ordered (via Gizmodo) the regulator to turn over server records to New York Times reporters that would reveal the IP addresses behind bogus comments supporting the net neutrality repeal. The FCC had contended that divulging the IP addresses would represent an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” but Judge Lorna Schofield said the agency didn’t really explain how anyone would be hurt by transferring the data.

The judge argued that the benefits clearly outweighed the drawbacks, as fake comments threatened the very nature of the public input system. The “notice-and-comment process has failed” if there are more fraudulent comments than real ones,” Schofield said.

The NYT reporters filed a Freedom of Information Request for the data after the FCC refused to show logs. In theory, they’ll show both the extent of fake commenting and help trace it back to groups that may have been involved. Investigations have suggested that over half of the comments are fake, and some of the comments appear linked to dark money groups determined to skew the political discussion.

The FCC hasn’t commented on the decision. However, it has a long history of fighting attempts to address the flawed net neutrality commenting process. In addition to trying to block log requests, it insisted its comment system had fallen prey to a cyberattack only to admit the attack never happened. It even rejected city governments’ requests in recent weeks to extend a commenting window. It won’t be surprising if the FCC contests this court ruling in a last-ditch bid to keep the comments’ origins a secret.