Nearly half a million fake anti-net neutrality comments have been spammed to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the victims are demanding answers, sending a letter to chairman Ajit Pai requesting an investigation be urgently launched.
More than 450,000 fraudulent comments now have been posted to the FCC's net neutrality consultation page using the names and identities of unwitting citizens. According to campaigning group Fight for the Future, at least two individuals listed were recently deceased.
"Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, exposed our private information in a public docket without our permission, and used our identities to file a political statement we did not sign," the letter stated, warning the full scope of the incident remains unclear.
"While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position, it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack," it added.
FCC chief Ajit Pai, a former Verizon general counsel, was appointed by US president Donald Trump in January. He hit the headlines after opening a public consultation and pledging to reverse Obama-era net neutrality legislation which forces internet companies to treat all data equally.
In early May, ZDNet reported a bot was likely behind the posting of thousands of messages to the FCC website in an attempt to influence the results. Now, almost half a million comments exist, often in alphabetical order with slight variations of the same pre-written statement.
It remains unproven where the identities were taken from however some speculate the data may have come from a previous data breach. Even though they are clearly fake, both Pai and the FCC have been accused of not taking adequate steps to remove them from the website.
"There is significant evidence that a person or organisation has been using stolen names and addresses to fraudulently file comments opposing net neutrality," said Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future. "For the FCC's process to have any legitimacy, they simply cannot move forward until an investigation has been conducted. We need to know who is doing this," she added.
The letter to Pai calls for the FCC to inform all impacted victims, remove the comments, publicly disclose any information on the culprit of the incident and launch a full investigation. Fight for the Future launched a website which lets people check if they were impacted in the data theft.
Joel Mullaney, one of the signatures on the letter to Pai, said: "In my nearly 30 years of being an Internet user, I've been extremely judicious about using my real name online.
"On those rare times when I have chosen to do so, it's been for something I feel strongly about. To see my good name used to present an opinion diametrically opposed to my own view on Net Neutrality makes me feel sad and violated." You can read the full letter here.