GSA, FCC Exploring New Ways to Combat Comment Bots and Abusers

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The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Sen Rob Portman (R-OH) held a hearing the same day it released a bipartisan report that shows regular misuse of the systems that 14 federal agencies use to collect comments from the public on proposed rules. Agency officials told lawmakers they are exploring modern technologies like CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA (which prompt humans to prove that they are humans) and developing new approaches to reform Americans’ ability to leave digital feedback—and trust that their comments are seen and voices are heard—using federal comment platforms. Chairman Portman and report co-author Sen Tom Carper (D-DE) argue that the government has not sufficiently responded to the abuses. Several lawmakers also referenced a notable rulemaking effort that put the Federal Communications Commission under intense scrutiny in 2017, when bots targeted the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) during a public comment period on net neutrality. “Even though these problems have been clear since at least 2017, the FCC has not taken steps to address them,” Chairman Portman said. 

But the agencies were quick to weigh in on the measures they are taking to tackle the abuse and new verification processes that could help ensure fair and appropriate commenting. Ashley Boizelle, who serves as deputy general counsel at the FCC, said the agency’s IT staff is working to implement various changes to boost the system’s functionality and security. They’ve also launched a cross-bureau working group to lead a review aimed at revamping the ECFS system from the ground up. They’re also convening round tables with external stakeholders to ensure that the system is secure and resilient going forward. 

GSA, FCC Exploring New Ways to Combat Comment Bots and Abusers Deputy General Counsel Boizelle Senate Testimony on ECFS Overhaul