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Dead People Commenting

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Turns out that dead people not only vote, they also comment on proposed federal regulations.  James V. Grimaldi and Paul Overberg report for the WSJ:

A comment posted on the Federal Communications Commission's public docket endorses a Trump-administration plan to repeal a "net neutrality" policy requiring internet providers to treat all web traffic the same.

Calling the old Obama-era policy an "exploitation of the open Internet," the comment was posted on June 2 by Donna Duthie of Lake Bluff, Ill.

It's a fake. Ms. Duthie died 12 years ago.
I have known that comment spam was a problem in rulemaking procedure since the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tried to promulgate a lethal injection protocol and was deluged with tens of thousand of repetitive and usually irrelevant comments.*  I was not aware of the extent of fakery, though, until this excellent piece of investigative journalism.

It is a federal felony to knowingly make false, fictitious or fraudulent statements to a U.S. agency.
*      *      *
In a random sample of 2,757 people whose emails were used to post those 818,000 comments [on the "net neutrality" rule], 72% said they had nothing to do with them, according to a survey the Journal conducted with research firm Mercury Analytics.
Wow.  72%.
The Journal heard from people reporting fraudulent postings under their names and email addresses at the FCC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission.

One 369-word comment supporting the Obama-era net-neutrality rules was posted on the FCC website more than 300,000 times. One of those was attributed to Gloria Burney, 87, a retired speech therapist in Los Angeles. She isn't in favor of repealing those rules, she said, "but I never wrote that."

A comment from "Elzor The Blarghmaster" at 9632 Elm Road, Maywood, Ill., was among the 818,000 identical FCC comments backing the Trump policy. No such address could be found, said Jimmie Thompson, a U.S. Postal Service carrier in Maywood.
*      *      *
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must take comments under consideration but needn't pay heed to them. The impact often comes afterward, when the regulated parties appeal to the next administration, the courts or Congress, which can alter a rule or slow its implementation. Failure to consider comments has become a factor in litigation, with judges sometimes forcing an agency to address comments it ignored.

"Astroturf lobbying"--typically when an interest group gins up support from individuals and characterizes it as a grass-roots movement--has been around Washington for decades.
*      *      *
The Journal also examined 2.8 million of the 23 million comments in four clusters and sent surveys to 956,000 of those addresses--including the 531,000 sent to the "unprecedented regulatory power" commenters--seeking to verify the people made the comments.

Based on the responses, three batches expressing anti-regulatory viewpoints were 63%, 72% and 80% bogus comments. The fourth set, in favor of the old rules, was 32% bogus.
*      *      *
Reports of the fake FCC comments have led some lawmakers to demand probes. After Fight for the Future said it found about 24 people saying they hadn't posted the "unprecedented regulatory power" comment, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey asked the Justice Department to investigate those comments as criminal acts.

The Justice Department hasn't responded to the request, Mr. Pallone's spokesman said. Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam confirmed the letter was received, declining to comment further. Mr. Pallone and 10 other members last week wrote the Government Accountability Office seeking an investigation. The GAO said it already had plans next year to begin examining the FCC's information-security controls, including over internet comments.
A video version of the report is here.

* APA compliance is no longer required for lethal injection protocols in California due to the enactment of Penal Code ยง 3604.1(a) in Proposition 66.  I wrote that section.

2 Comments

Seems apt:

"Though their bodies lie cold and dormant,
the grave cannot contain the influence these
men have had on today's world. They continue to rule ..."

~ https://www.moodypublishers.com/books/evangelism-and-discipleship/7-men-who-rule-the-world-from-the-grave/

{ Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Julius Wellhausen, John Dewey, Sigmund Freud,
John Maynard Keynes, & Soren Kierkegaard: The Malignant 7 }

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