Numerous individuals have confirmed that personal information was used to file comments without their permission, data analysis shows likely connection to stolen databases. Fight for the Future demands answers.
Amid numerous media reports about suspicious anti-net neutrality comments that have been submitted into the FCC docket, digital rights group Fight for the Future is calling on Internet users, the FCC, and state Attorneys General to investigate this potential case of mass identity fraud. The group has launched a website: Comcastroturf.com, where Internet users can check if their personal information was used to file a comment without their permission and contact the authorities to request an investigation.
"The FCC is still refusing to release proof of an alleged DDoS attack that silenced voices in support of Title II net neutrality protections, and now there is significant evidence that a person or organization has been using stolen names and addresses to fraudulently file comments opposing net neutrality," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, "If this FCC has any legitimacy, it simply cannot move forward until an investigation has been conducted. We need to know who is doing this, if Ajit Pai or other FCC officials knew that it was happening, and whether any of this illegal activity has been funded by companies like Comcast and Verizon who have a long history of financing astroturf groups. State Attorneys General should immediate investigate whether people in their state were affected by this, and the FCC should immediately release any and all information that it has about who is submitting these fake comments."
Here’s what we know:
- Numerous media outlets have reported that more than 450,000 suspicious comments – all containing the same misleading rhetoric, many submitted in alphabetical order and in perfect formatting, opposing net neutrality protections – have been submitted into the FCC’s docket. It seems extremely likely that a significant portion of these comments are completely fake, and were submitted using real people’s names and addresses without their permission.
- Journalists have spoken to many people whose personal information was used to file an anti-net neutrality comment who confirmed that they never filed such a comment.
- Various security researchers have noted that a significant portion of the suspicious anti-net neutrality comments use names and addresses found in breached databases including River City Media and Modern Business Solutions. Statistical analysis shows a much greater percentage of the anti-Title II comments use information found in leaked/stolen lists than other comments.
- Fight for the Future directly interviewed more than a dozen people and confirmed that they had not filed the comments in question, nor had they signed any petitions that could conceivably have used that comment text. Our campaigner knocked on doors in her zipcode in Tampa, FL and spoke in person to several people whose information had been used to file a comment without their permission. We interviewed these people thoroughly and ensured that they understood the issue well enough that they could not have filed a comment and forgotten about it.
- The FCC has refused to show evidence for its claim that a DDoS attack took down their site during the exact same time that large numbers of pro net neutrality comments would have been flowing in from John Oliver’s segment on Last Week Tonight. Security experts and even a former senior FCC staffer have disputed their unfounded claims, raising questions about whether the agency is actively trying to silence supporters of net neutrality while knowingly accepting fraudulent comments opposing it.
- Fortune has reported that if you remove the suspicious comments, 97% of the remaining comments are in support of Title II based net neutrality protections.
- In 2014, it was widely reported that a group allied with the cable & telecom lobby, American Commitment, rented space on several email lists oriented towards older conservative voters and sent misleading emails soliciting comments to the FCC opposing net neutrality rules. Given the large number of comments they collected (~1 million) the cost of the list rentals would have been extremely high.
- It was also reported in Politico in 2014 that the American Commitment letter was submitted to members of Congress using suspicious, out-of-district addresses, including from constituents who didn’t recall sending such a message.
- The text of the misleading anti-net neutrality comment has been tied to the relatively unknown group Center for Individual Freedom. The group claims that they have been collecting signatures through an online web form, but that form does not appear on their website or social media. It would be extremely unusual, if not impossible, for a letter that is not visible on the web or social media to attract even tens of thousands of signers, much less hundreds of thousands. The only way to accomplish that would be to spend potentially tens of millions of dollars on list rentals and advertising.
Fight for the Future encourages journalists to investigate this situation, and is calling for the FCC to disclose any information it has pertaining to the alleged DDoS incident and the person or organization behind these likely fraudulent comments. Further, we encourage journalists to ask Cable companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T whether they are funding this activity, or providing funding for groups that could be engaging in this activity.