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By Jon Reid
The New York Times Co. is suing the Federal Communications Commission for records the newspaper alleges may reveal possible Russian government interference in a public comment period before the commission rolled back Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The plaintiffs, including Times reporter Nicholas Confessore and investigations editor Gabriel Dance, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Sept. 20 under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking to compel the commission to hand over data.
“The request at issue in this litigation involves records that will shed light on the extent to which Russian nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest: the government’s decision to abandon ‘net neutrality,’” the plaintiffs alleged.
The FCC has “thrown up a series of roadblocks” to prevent the Times from obtaining records, which were first requested by Confessore and Dance in June 2017, the plaintiffs said.
About half a million comments on the FCC’s proposal were submitted from Russian email accounts, including some sent by automation, the Times alleged, citing data from a Washington Post op-ed by Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
The plaintiffs also pointed to a report from cyber-intelligence company GroupSense that links the email addresses cited in special counsel Robert Mueller’s “indictment of thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian companies” to the emails used to submit comments on the FCC’s proposal.
The plaintiffs are seeking data, including IP addresses, time stamps and the FCC’s internal web server logs, linked to public comments submitted to the agency.
An unprecedented number of public comments on the proposal flooded the commission before it rolled back its rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing web content.
Releasing the FCC’s “internal web server logs” would jeopardize the commission’s IT security practices,” an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg Law.
A federal court ruled in a separate case last week that the FCC doesn’t have to release internal agency web server logs like the kind being sought by the Times, the spokesman added.
The newspaper’s request was modified several times in an attempt to obtain the records, the Times alleged.
The case is New York Times Co. v. FCC, No. 1:18-cv-08607, complaint filed 9/20/18.
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