'The Definition of Corruption': Warren Calls Out FCC Advisory Committee Overrun by Corporate Suits

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listens as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee November 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Win McNamee / Getty

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for president, took aim at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week over the makeup of an advisory committee she calls “stacked with corporate insiders.” In a letter last month, the senator also highlighted some questionable advice offered by the committee, which appears antithetical to the security interests of the nation’s communications networks.

Citing a report published on June 10 by journalist Andrea Peterson, formerly of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Warren demanded that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explain why the agency’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) was almost 70 percent comprised of members representing industry interests.

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Peterson reported:

Since March 2011, when cybersecurity officially became part of the group’s mission, there have been four iterations of the council. Each of those times, more than half of its members represented private sector interests, either as a direct employee of a for-profit company or via affiliation with an industry trade group, according to POGO’s analysis of its membership.

According to FCC records, as of this year, all but a single person on the 22-member council represents the interests of corporations, industry trade groups, or the government itself. “This is the definition of corruption,” Warren said in a tweet, “industry members writing the rules to benefit themselves & their rich friends.”

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The FCC announced plans in April to recharter CSRIC, the goal of which is to “promote the security, reliability, and resiliency of the Nation’s communications systems.”

Nominations for new members were due no later than May 8, according to an FCC public notice, which states that the seventh iteration of the council would meet for the first time in June. However, there’s no indication this happened. The FCC’s website contains no information about new members and no further details about CSRIC’s rechartering.

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Gizmodo reached out to the FCC and to CSRIC’s designated spokesperson by email and phone on Tuesday but received no response.

In a letter to Chairman Pai on June 27, Warren and Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, requested information regarding the “extent to which [CSRIC] may be inappropriately dominated by industry insiders.”

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The lawmakers said the industry personnel on the council, which includes a T-Mobile senior vice president and the CEO of the nation’s largest broadband industry trade association, have recommended policies that are “directly in line with the wishes of the companies from which the members are drawn.”

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The lawmakers cited, for example, the council’s recommendation in 2015, when Democrats controlled the FCC, that commitments to follow the cybersecurity best-practices established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) be voluntary, rather than mandatory. The panel similarly opposed mandatory requirements for telecommunications companies to address security concerns related to Signaling System 7, which has allowed criminal hackers to read text messages, listen to phone calls, and track the locations of mobile devices.

“Having the FCC’s policy-making process rely on input from individuals employed by, or affiliated with, the corporations that it is tasked with overseeing is the very definition of regulatory capture,” the lawmakers wrote. “The FCC should be working on behalf of the American consumers, not giant telecommunications companies.”

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Pai’s FCC is notorious on Capitol Hill for ignoring information requests from Congress (not to mention from his own colleagues). As Gizmodo recently reported, Pai has even refused to respond to a request to clarify comments he made during an oversight hearing, in which he appeared to repeatedly lie about withholding documents from Democratic commissioners.

Warren and Jayapal said they expect the FCC to respond to their request by July 12. The odds of that happening, though, are slim at best.

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Dell Cameron

Privacy, security, tech policy | Got a tip? Email: dell@gizmodo.com | Send me encrypted texts using Signal: (202)556-0846

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