Though the Federal Communications Commission on Monday denied reporters’ requests for records relating to millions of public comments submitted last year about net neutrality, Chairman Ajit Pai made a surprising claim in justifying his decision: The Russians did it.
The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore and BuzzFeed News’ Jeremy Singer-Vine have long sought information about the public comments the FCC received about net neutrality, seeking evidence of foreign interference, after the FCC voted to do away with net neutrality late last year.
Near the end of his statement justifying not releasing the comment data, Pai referred to a dissenting Democratic colleague on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, and noted “the fact that the half-million comments submitted from Russian e-mail addresses and the nearly eight million comments filed by e-mail addresses from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com supported her position on the issue!”
Gizmodo first noted Pai’s claim on Tuesday, reporting that the study the chairman cited was funded by the telecom industry. Rosenworcel, who dissented from the decision not to release the records, cited the same study in a Washington Post op-ed in March, “Russians are hacking our public-commenting system, too.”
Gizmodo also noted that the FCC has claimed uncertainty about potential Russian interference in court, in response to a lawsuit from the New York Times over the public comment data.
Despite acknowledging the “fact” of Russian interference in the public comment system, Pai argued that “the FCC relies on clear judicial precedent and careful analysis of the facts to uphold the career staff’s determination that disclosure of certain server logs is inappropriate.”
The FCC’s net neutrality decision-making process has been subject to scrutiny for months. Pai falsely claimed last year that the FCC’s public comment system had been the victim of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In reality, according to an inspector general’s report, there were no such attacks, just a massive wave of comments, many due to a segment calling for public comments by HBO’s John Oliver.