A D.C. district court judge has told the FCC it needs to provide a freelance journalist with the email addresses used to submit comments to the network neutrality docket, but also said the FCC could continue to withhold "certain privileged emails and its server logs."
Judge Christopher Cooper was granting summary judgment to both the FCC and journalist Jason Prechtel.
Prechtel had sued the FCC over what he said was its non-responsiveness to his FOIA request for the docket info, which the judge pointed out included an unprecedented number of "fraudulent, duplicative, or otherwise dubious comments."
The comment docket was flooded with comments from Russia and bot-driven input. The FCC also said it was the subject of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks that impeded the filing of comments and occurred not lot long after John Oliver, host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, called for a flood of pro-network neutrality comments, though that assertion ultimately proved not to be the case.
Prechtel also filed a FOIA request with the General Services Administration, which essentially denied his request.
The court reserved judgment on the GSA challenge because he said they were "late served" by Bechtel with the request, as well as the challenge to the adequacy of the FCC search for info, so it denied requests for summary judgment on those issues.
The addresses the FCC will have to turn over are those submitting .CSV files, but the court said the FCC and Prechtel should confer about access to the files themselves.
.CSV files are ones that provide a spreadsheet with every row containing a comment, allowing multiple comments to be uploaded in one step.
“My first question is: why is the FCC spending taxpayer dollars fighting journalists in court in order to keep this information secret in the first place? What are they hiding? Who are they covering for?," said Fight for the Future Executive Director Evan Greer. "Fight for the Future is one of many groups that used the FCC’s bulk upload feature to submit real comments from real people concerned about the agency’s repeal of net neutrality. We have no problem with the FCC releasing this information. The only reason to keep it hidden is to prevent the public from learning which groups abused this comment system by submitting fraudulent comments, and who funded them."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.