Blog

FOIA Lawsuit: Did John Oliver Wreck the FCC's Website?

Update: Here are a couple new articles about the lawsuit: 

https://abovethelaw.com/2017/08/journalist-sues-fcc-for-hiding-details-about-its-alleged-phantom-ddos-attack/

https://www.wired.com/story/fcc-pledges-openness-just-dont-ask-to-see-complaints/

--------

As a fan of comedian John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, I am very pleased to represent BuzzFeed reporter Kevin Collier (@kevincoller) in his lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission. Kevin is a brilliant cyber-security reporter and a must-follow.

Background

In the wake of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's April 2017 announcement that the agency intended to reverse course on Net Neutrality, the agency has come under heavy fire from proponents of a free internet. A segment on John Oliver's Sunday night talk show encouraged fans to support Net Neutrality by setting up a website that would direct users to the agency's designated page for receiving public comments. The FCC's website went down within hours.

Did a comedian manage to inundate the FCC's servers with so many pro Net Neutrality comments that it knocked their website out of commission? Not according to the agency, which insisted that the outage was the work of hackers. 

But that's not all. According to a ZDNet investigation, the agency has also received hundreds of thousands of identical anti Net Neutrality comments, submitted without the apparent knowledge or consent of the individuals who ostensibly offered them. It is unclear what efforts, if any, the agency has taken to sort out which comments are legitimate and which are "astroturfed" (i.e. faked to appear to be grassroots). 

Suffice to say, the agency's Notice & Comment process could fairly be described as FUBAR.

For more background, check out this article by Dell Cameron of Gizmodo, quoting Kevin and yours truly. 

The Request

In response to media and congressional inquiries, the FCC has offered incomplete, contradictory, and unsupported claims. We're suing to get the real answers. 

The case is Collier v. FCC, 1:17-cv-04419, filed in the Eastern District of New York (aka Brooklyn). A copy of the Complaint can be found here.

Daniel NovackComment