Our short bio: We are Josh Burday and Matt Topic, the attorneys suing the FCC for ignoring our client's FOIA request investigating fraudulent net neutrality comments. We saw an article about our case on the front page a few days ago and we are here to answer your questions. https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/71iurh/fcc_sued_for_ignoring_foia_request_investigating/

We will begin answering questions at 2pm central time.

Our profiles and firm website:

https://loevy.com/attorneys/matthew-v-topic/

https://loevy.com/attorneys/josh-burday/

www.loevy.com

IMPORTANT: We are not your attorneys and nothing we say here constitutes legal advice.

Proof: https://i.imgur.com/bizmUo4.jpg

Edit: We are going to give people some more time to ask questions.

Edit 2: We apologize for the delay in answering questions today. As this has gained more attention than we anticipated, we will return to this thread tomorrow afternoon to answer more questions.

Edit 3: Thank you all. We are signing off now.

You can reach us by email at [email protected] any time. The webpage for our practice is located at www.loevy.com/foia. Matt's Twitter is @mvtopic.

You can find our client, Jason Prechtel, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jasonprechtel.

Comments: 740 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

CounterSanity2214 karma

Hi guys. Thanks for going to bat for us.

Ajit Pai’s appointment as the head of the FCC is such a glaring and blindingly obvious conflict of interest with his background as an attorney for Verizon (who would greatly benefit from not having to adhere to Title II regulations). Why is this allowed to happen? Not just at the FCC, but all over the government we have appointments of people who are running organizations that they have spent the past decade vowing to destroy. Do we have any legal protection from malicious oversight?

Transparency_Attys1340 karma

While there are a lot of laws that the government is required to follow, the courts often don’t allow individuals to file suit to enforce them. The legal doctrine is called “standing,” and you usually need to show a “particularized harm.” But that’s a great question. We’ll take a look at what specific laws might apply and whether there is a way to bring a suit. Otherwise, it’s something that has to be handled politically (ie, at the ballot box). Not a satisfying answer, we know.

1stdayof695 karma

How do I explain the importance of Net Neutrality to people who don't understand how to work their TV remote, let alone what an ISP is?

Transparency_Attys668 karma

Many people respond more to specific examples about how laws affect them, more than philosophical debates. (That's often true for judges too.)

smoov22296 karma

Hey! I think most of the world has a mental barrier between email and digital action against Congress and going to their local building. Whether it be because they would be too embarrassed, unable, or unwilling, most people would not do something lowly, let alone what you're doing. What can you (and I) say to convince the community to go out and take action themselves?

Transparency_Attys318 karma

A lot of times people don’t try because they don’t think they have any chance of changing things. One of the biggest lessons from the Laquan McDonald FOIA case we handled (for an independent freelance journalist) is that just showing people the truth can actually lead to change. Thousands of people came out to protest and forced the City of Chicago to make changes to police accountability, so people should remember they usually aren’t alone in wanting to hold their government accountable. There is still so much work to be done on that, but the public demand hasn’t let up. So people should find that encouraging and should fight for their right to information. We’re always happy to help with that!

Hockeyhoser213 karma

Are we doomed?

Transparency_Attys259 karma

No, definitely not. See our earlier post about Laquan McDonald.

HomunculusEmeritus164 karma

What is your biggest obstacle in effecting change?

Transparency_Attys385 karma

Stamina. The government often tries to grind people down and wear them out, including us. But it's worth the fight.

CounterSanity112 karma

I feel like transparency in the government kind of a no brainer. There is obviously a need for operational security, but it seems like the government abuses that classification quite a bit. What kind of arguments do you guys hear from the government in defenses of their lack of transparency?

Transparency_Attys174 karma

We find that the government (from the federal government on down to local library boards) usually throws a lot of legal spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. If they can dream up any basis to withhold something that doesn’t make them look like complete morons, they’ll do it, even though the law is really pretty demanding in favor of disclosure. We also find a lot of scare tactics along the lines of “if you release this, judge, you’ll make it easier for terrorists to attack us.” But the courts are usually pretty good about seeing through the garbage. Personal privacy exemptions get over-asserted a lot, and we doubt that many government officials really are concerned about it (as opposed to trying to hide behind it to keep their own embarrassing actions secret.) And definitely law enforcement agencies dream up all kinds of fanciful ways that release of basic information would hurt their investigations that don’t hold water once you challenge them.

msatretwhaart107 karma

Thanks for doing this and great work so far. Just to play out what is lamentably (to me) a plausible scenario: Let’s say you’re successful in compelling the FCC to comply with the FOIA request, and it proves that the comments were fraudulent. What happens then?

Let’s also say that net neutrality was successfully (or effectively) eliminated, what happens then if the above scenario turned out to be true. What would happen then? Is there any precedent for either scenario? What a mess!

Transparency_Attys124 karma

If the comment process was a fraud, Congress ought to make sure that can't keep happening and people need to understand not to trust those comments. DOJ should also be looking whether this was criminal.

THE_LORD_HERESY106 karma

Have received death threats for your actions? What type of investigation is being done about the Chicago black site?

Thanks for the work you've done in and for the community.

Transparency_Attys119 karma

Happily no, we have not received any death threats. There is currently civil rights litigation pending about Homan Square. There was a recent ruling ordering the City to search for any Rahm Emanuel emails about this. Here is a Tribune article about the case: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-homan-square-lawsuit-20151020-story.html

go_to_the_jim85 karma

Hi sirs! I hope you get the highest share of attention here, you really are doing the lord's work.

I tend to think transparency is an essential ingredient to democratic health. Do you think it could be possible for a politician to push for a broad legal framework that would better access to information and transparency through all (or most) spheres of govt?

Does that kind of framework already exist in the United States (or anywhere else in the world)? If so, what makes it efficient, or non-efficient for that matter?

Transparency_Attys106 karma

We couldn’t agree more with your first point. Generally speaking, the legal framework on transparency is pretty good. It’s really a question of enforcement. It’s not terribly “painful” for the government to get caught in a FOIA violation. One thing to look at is to impose much stiffer penalties, especially when agencies know darn well they are violating the law.

coryrenton67 karma

are there any advantages to suing specific FCC personnel rather than the FCC as a body (presumably not the entire FCC is responsible for the policy)?

Transparency_Attys100 karma

We typically sue the agency rather than individual personnel as that is what the law generally requires in a FOIA case.

Orbyn61 karma

This might be the 2nd or 3rd time I'm calling legislators complaining about net neutrality under attack. Will lawmakers continue to bring it up until the people lose interest?

Are there any laws protecting the people from constant barrage of defeated legislation?

Transparency_Attys74 karma

There are no such laws, and they probably wouldn't be a good thing anyway. It's kind of like blowing up the rules in the Senate that require 60 votes: just because you like the result you get now doesn't mean you'll be happy when someone else is in control.

Sodonotcare59 karma

What is taking the longest amount of time in the legal process? It seems like most of your cases last years.

Transparency_Attys101 karma

Depending on how hard the government fights, it might take as little as three or four months or as much as three or four years.

scottsummerstheyouth46 karma

Hi, can you explain to me a little more about your case? Thanks!

Transparency_Attys146 karma

Millions of comments have been submitted to the FCC regarding net neutrality and we still don’t know how many of those comments are fake. At the beginning of June our client, Jason Prechtel, submitted a FOIA request to the FCC seeking records that would reveal how many of the comments are fake and/or submitted by bots. The fact that the FCC has repeatedly chosen not to fully explain the problems with their online public commenting system and instead let the process continue for months as if nothing was wrong is both suspicious and concerning. The people who had their personal information stolen and fraudulently used to post online comments without their knowledge have a right to know and are still waiting for answers. The FCC hasn't even given us the decency of a response to our client's request. Instead, they are violating the law and basically ignoring it. So we've sued.

NeonGKayak39 karma

Will this accomplish anything or just mark it visible?

Transparency_Attys110 karma

Step 1 in addressing the problem of using bots to fraudulently hijack the commenting process is to expose the extent of the problem.

pilgrimlost37 karma

What can be done about the thousands of outstanding FOIA requests from the previous administration?

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/obama-administration-sets-new-record-withholding-foia-requests/

Transparency_Attys50 karma

Courts and Congress need to hold agencies accountable for their refusal to hire enough staff to keep up with requests. Transparency is a foundation of democracy. We need to treat it like one.

Davidjhyatt33 karma

Are you sueing th FCC in regards to the comment period? I, for one, searched and found one of the copy pasted comments SUPPORTING the end of net neutrality in my name. I have submitted 2 comments stating I want net neutrality and for ISP's to be considered a utility. Also what's happened in regards to the so called DNS attack that inturrupted the comment period after the HBO John Oliver special with a call to arms to phone the FCC? Thanks!

Transparency_Attys36 karma

We're suing right now just for information about it. But we'll be looking into the broader issues too.

funny_toast31 karma

How do I become a better engaged citizen?

In terms of holding my local government accountable and being able to keep track of the decisions they make.

Are there any "tricks" or places I should pay attention to?

Transparency_Attys49 karma

Lots of journalists and activists are paying attention to the big issues. But not as much as the local level, especially outside of major cities. A great place to focus is discretionary spending like credit card statements and expense reimbursement. The more FOIA requests you make, the better you get. We have a guide available at www.loevy.com/foia for Illinois.

H0n0ur23 karma

Why do so many people oppose net neutrality and from a legal stand point why do you have to sue for these transparencies? Shouldn't they be available under the foia?

Transparency_Attys55 karma

We think these records are available under FOIA and that the FCC is violating the law by not producing them to our client.

dougiev12321 karma

Think you'll win?

Transparency_Attys41 karma

Yes.

Pseudonimity20 karma

Do you ever get frustrated having to fight the same FOIA battle with different government officials over and over again? And if so, how do you push through?

Transparency_Attys39 karma

Frustrated is an understatement. Sometimes it feels like we're just banging our heads against the same wall. But the satisfaction that comes from beating the big-bad government and getting the truth out makes it well worth it.

Transparency_Attys49 karma

The City is relying on the fact that Mr. Rios was a juvenile. We don't think the statute that protects juvenile information applies to records about the shooting of a juvenile by police, and we are in the middle of a suit against the City on this issue in a FOIA case for the records in the Warren Robinson shooting.

noisyturtle13 karma

How about getting Trump to release his tax returns?

Transparency_Attys41 karma

We've been looking into this.

kwantsu-dudes11 karma

This seems to all hinge on the belief that the amount of comments actually matter. Why is that the case?

The comments are not a good representation of the American public because it was freely accessed by anyone that desire to do so. Selection Bias therefore exists. And any conclusion of percentages is not a fair indication of what "the public" actually desires. And any total tallies of a similar belief isnt breaking more than a couple percentage points.

So why do "fake comments" even matter when they shouldn't even be factored into the evaluation process?

Transparency_Attys21 karma

For right or for wrong, comments, like polls, are a way of measuring public opinion and justifying government action.

MrLouth11 karma

Is there anything we can do to assist you? (Never thought I would ask lawyers that!) besides money of course...

Transparency_Attys18 karma

Call or write your representatives in Congress and let them know that their transparency laws are being violated and that the issue matters to you as a voter.

ChronoKing11 karma

Have you heard of Freddie Martinez with regards to Chicago police and stingray devices? Would his work interest you?

Transparency_Attys24 karma

We love Freddy. We represented him in his stingray FOIA cases in Chicago and many others.

nazispaceinvader11 karma

What is the chance the other officers that were at the macdonald murder that immediately attempted a coverup will be charged?

Transparency_Attys29 karma

Three officers have already been charged with conspiracy related to the Laquan McDonald shooting. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/us/chicago-officers-indicted-laquan-mcdonald-shooting.html

absenthecon10 karma

Keep up the great work. I have only one question for you, what is your favourite flavour muffin?

Transparency_Attys20 karma

Matt: I try to stick to the Paleo diet, but I enjoy a good banana nut muffin from time to time.

Josh: Blueberry muffins are my favorite. I like to put butter on them.

Duke_Paul9 karma

Hi there guys, and thanks for doing an AMA!

First and most important question: can you get us Jared Kushner's emails?! I figure it's probably unlikely, but worth a try, right?

Secondly, how do you make money? Are you getting paid for this FCC case, or will you be awarded some amount for expenses if you win, or do you have other work sustaining this case?

Thanks again!

Transparency_Attys22 karma

The courts have made it hard to get White House emails, but there may be some ways to get at Kuschner’s emails if you target other people on the email chains who are government officials. The law requires the government to pay the requester’s legal fees if the requester wins, which lets us often represent people who can’t afford to hire us.

thrillerjesus9 karma

Something I don't think people working in politics or advocacy get asked enough, and rarely if ever answer honestly:

Are you able to name a specific opinion you've previously held related to FCC regulations or related to privacy, about which you have later changed your mind?

If not, do you think that it is rational for people to trust an advocate who is thinking so shallowly about his area of expertise that he never finds he's been wrong about anything?

I don't intend that as an attack, although I realize it might sound harsh. I agree that net neutrality is important, but just as you guys can't be right 100% of the time, Ajit Pai can't be wrong 100% of the time.

Edit: Elaboration.

Transparency_Attys19 karma

The reason we love the work we do is that we're able to get people access to information that they can use to make up their own minds about important issues.

lilahmer5 karma

Hello, thanks for fighting againt net neutrality.

Can you please tell us more of the transparency cases? Like, maybe a list of them? Thanks for doing an ama.

Transparency_Attys9 karma

A partial list is on our website, www.loevy.com/foia. But we've done many more.

jfever645 karma

You guys are doing a good thing by bringing about this lawsuit. As a young recent college grad who has just started work in the technology field and someone interested in looking into future careers including technology and the law, where would you recommend that they look to continue down this path?

Also, what are your favorite video games? If you don't play video games, what's your favorite hobby?

Transparency_Attys17 karma

Don't listen to people who tell you not to become a lawyer. It's a wonderful profession. Josh plays many games including battlegrounds and hearthstone. Matt plays in a band. We both play golf. (Don't hate.)

therooseisloose5785 karma

Hi, thanks for fighting the good fight. I just have one question, do you guys ever feel like dare devil?

Transparency_Attys5 karma

Definitely. We love a challenge.

Ghastly1875 karma

How did you come to view net neutrality as you see it should be?

Transparency_Attys32 karma

The question for us as transparency lawyers isn't necessarily whether Net Neutrality is good or bad. The question is whether the rulemaking process is being manipulated and whether the FCC is trying to hide that from the public.

Rusdino1 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. Are there specific laws or even traditions in the way the US government currently operates that presents a hindrance, intentional or not, to better transparency? For example, do you find that FOIA requests to agencies with an interim head are harder to get information from than those led by people who have been appointed and confirmed? Do you think a fully staffed government would be easier or harder to hold accountable for making sure FOIAs are released?

Transparency_Attys6 karma

A lot of it has to do with agency culture. For example, the FBI has long been terrible on FOIA even after they've been nailed in court many times.

Freidaofinformation-1 karma

When you win, the public body must pay your attorney's fees. In Illinois, "winning" often means simply getting some documents. Don't you feel a little gross vacationing on the taxpayers' money just because some FOIA officer made a mistake in their response? FOIA officers may handle hundreds of requests a week, and mess up on one, and you turn it into $$$ for you. Because you know that's what you do -- you're not always so heroic. (Also, why do both of you look like turtles.)

Transparency_Attys2 karma

We could be making a lot more money in corporate legal work (and Matt spent several years doing that), but we do this work because we think it matters a lot to democracy. When we try to resolve our client's disputes short of litigation, we are frequently ignored. When the government owns up to its mistakes early in the process, the fees are very small and we might even waive them. Far more often, though, the government doubles down on its ridiculous position and forces us through months and months of litigation. So if you don't like that result, tell your elected officials to stop violating the law.