The New York Attorney General recently issued a report detailing her investigation into possible misuse of New Yorkers’ identities in public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the agency's 2017 internet rulemaking, what has been commonly referred to in the press as the "repeal of net neutrality." The conclusion was stunning: the New York AG determined that fake comments accounted for nearly 18 million of the more than 22 million comments the FCC received.
Fake comments flooded into the FCC both for and against the proposed rulemaking. The report concludes that lead generators falsified more than 8.5 million comments in favor of the rulemaking, using names they had collected or purchased earlier, and in one case even copying information that had been stolen in a data breach and made available online. In opposition to the rule, the report found that the FCC received over 9.3 million fake comments, most of which were submitted by a 19-year old college student using automated software to generate fake names.
Notably, the Attorney General found no evidence that the broadband companies or trade groups that funded the lead generators had direct knowledge of fraud or violated New York law. Nevertheless, the report raises questions about the process of notice and comment rulemaking more generally and what tools can be most effectively and reliably used to identify and dissuade fraudulent comments. The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) is considering this timely issue, and its report and recommendations are forthcoming.