The Federal Communications Commission may update its public comments system, Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a recent letter to Congress.
The letter dated July 6 to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.) stated in part that “the FCC is planning to rebuild and re-engineer [the Electronic Comment Filing System] and has submitted a request to reprogram the funds necessary to undertake this project.”
While the request sits in front of House and Senate appropriation committees awaiting approval, Pai indicates that CAPTCHA or a similar mechanism which could limit bots from posting comments should be one of the features incorporated to the new version of ECFS.
The FCC’s public comment system was criticized during last year’s net neutrality debate in which thousands of comments were fraudulently made through identity theft and by automated bots. While the public, Democratic lawmakers and minority commissioners objected at the time, the fake comments were allowed to stay as part of the public record.
An Obama-era reform, net neutrality required that internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon treat all web traffic equally. This meant that, for example, providers would not be allowed to “throttle” or change the speed with which a person accesses a website. The repeal allows ISPs to block or slow some online traffic. In other cases, the provider can negotiate with a website for “fast lanes” to users.
In December, the FCC voted on party lines to end net neutrality. The decision to end net neutrality went into effect in June.
The New York attorney general’s office, which is suing the FCC along with 21 other attorneys general over net neutrality, said as many as 2 million Americans had their identities misused. A report from industry group Broadband for America found that nearly 445,000 were from Russian email addresses, and that a similar number came from Germany.
Pai said if an individual contacted the FCC claiming that a comment was incorrectly submitted under their name, the commission invited that person to file a statement to be included in the public record. He did not indicate how many took up this offer.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission have all received fake comments or comments submitted under stolen identities.
Be sure to read Jason Tashea’s story, No Contact, coming in the August 2018 issue of the ABA Journal magazine.
Corrects to “net” in fifth paragraph at 2:16 p.m.