FCC Comments “Researcher” Abusing Email Addresses Required to Be Public Record

Did you submit this comment to the FCC?

Today, I received this email an email purporting to be from someone named Courtney Pruitt, whose email address was courtney@fcccommentsresearch.org, with the subject line:

Did you submit this comment to the FCC?

The email is the first that I’m aware of receiving in connection with my public comments to the FCC on the net neutrality issue.

My first thought was, “Hey! The FCC hired a research firm to verify which comments were from legitimate senders by emailing the commenters and asking them to verify their comment.”

On closer inspection, however, there is nothing official about this email at all. In fact, there are some suspicious details:

  • The domain name, fcccommentsresearch.org, was registered via Namecheap on August 9, 2017.
  • The domain name was registered with privacy turned on, which means that the public WHOIS shows proxy information rather than the details of the actual registrant.
  • The statement, “We are investigating comments submitted to the FCC website on a public filing about net neutrality.” could be true of the email’s sender. It doesn’t actually even imply that the FCC has anything to do with the research nor the sending of the email message I received.
  • This statement, “Responding to this email with help us verify real comments so that we can discover how the public truly feels about net neutrality.” is even more telling. Whoever “we” refers to, “they” want to know how the public truly feels.
  • The message was sent via Mandrill, a bulk email service provider owned The Rocket Science Group, parent company of MailChimp.

The Mandrill platform allows for open tracking, and although I haven’t actually done a thorough analysis, I suspect this message contains a beacon for the purposes of open tracking. Thus, the sender knows that I’ve looked at the message.

I did not, however, click any links, nor did I take the action requested, which was to reply with a “yes” or “no” to the question of whether or not I actually submitted the comment that they quoted.

The message began:

Dear David Johnson,

According to the FCC website, you wrote a comment on 2017-07-14 10:37:46 about Net Neutrality.

Could you confirm that you submitted it by replying “Yes” to this email? If you did not submit this comment, please reply “No.”

The text of the message attributed to you is:

I’m redacting my comment here, although the email message I received did appear to have something I wrote (I didn’t actually check it thoroughly).

Then the email was signed as follows:

Thank you,

Courtney Pruitt
Data Analyst with Ragtag

Why you are receiving this email:

We are investigating comments submitted to the FCC website on a public filing about net neutrality.
Your name/email is attached to a duplicate comment, and we just want to make sure it was you who submitted it. You can see the comment on the FCC website here: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX [redacted]
Responding to this email with help us verify real comments so that we can discover how the public truly feels about net neutrality.

refid:XXXXXXXXXXX [redacted]

The refid at the bottom of the message is presumably a unique identifier which could be used by the receiving system to automate the analysis of replies.

I’ve always been mildly alarmed by the need to put my email address into information that will be displayed, unredacted, to the public. This makes my information susceptible to scraping. Whether or not this is actually a good idea is open to debate, as far as I’m concerned.

But since this is the first time that I’m actually becoming aware that my publicly-displayed email address has actually been used to contact me (and I’m only aware of this occurrence because it makes reference to my actual comment), this is my chance to voice my concern publicly.

Who is it that has scraped my comment and my email address? 

Why do they take significant steps to mask their identity?
No Google search for “Ragtag” with phrases including “data analyst,” “data analysis,” or even “Courtney Pruitt” turned up anything useful. And I refuse to click the link for the word “Ragtag.” It’s destination URL is being masked by the Mandrill bulk email process in order to allow for click tracking by the sender.

Who has the resources to pay for this kind of research?
My concern on the net neutrality issue is that the big ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, etc. are the ones who would conduct research like this so that they could manipulate the outcomes of the research. Am I jaded and cynical? Probably.

If you’re a legitimate researcher, why not be more open about this research?
Will the data be shared publicly? If so, by whom? When? Where?

I don’t normally take the time to write about phishing emails. Maybe this is legitimate research, and maybe it isn’t.

Whatever it is, it rubbed me the wrong way.

 

Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields

Why Even Conservatives Want to Save the Celery Fields in Sarasota

The past seven or eight months have been quite a learning experience for me.

We hadn’t made it far into 2017 when I first heard of the plan to construct what amounts to a dump at the Celery Fields in Sarasota.

Now I am not what you would call an “activist.” Prior to 2017, you could count one hand the number of times you’d have spotted me holding a sign in a crowd. Some people enjoy it and would find a reason to do it every week if they could. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Nor am I what you would call an “environmentalist.” This issue has become one of the growing number of issues for which I consider both sides of the argument to be less than honest and certainly not aboveboard.

Nor am I someone who believes in giving government even more control over our private lives. I regard the increasing incursion of the State into our individual liberties as a dangerous menace—one that was foreseen by the Founders and Framers, whose counsel on the issue we ignore to our own peril.

In other words, I’m not what you would call a “liberal,” at least not according to any modern definition of the word.

And yet, in 2017, I’ve signed petitions, gone to rallies, attended public hearings, and spoken out in a number of ways to ask Sarasota County to deny petitions to build on Celery Fields lands.

Knowing this, many casual observers might assume that they could accurately guess my political leanings.

And yet, over the last number of months, I’ve worked alongside card-carrying members of both of the major political parties, and many others who are harder to classify, politically speaking. Lifelong Republicans, tree-hugging environmentalist Democrats, frustrated independents, and members of other parties have aligned themselves to oppose these projects, most notably the one proposed by local developer turned public official, James Gabbert.

And this is how I have learned so much this year. Never before have I seen so many people willing to lay aside their cherished ideologies and work together with people who, in other circumstances, they’d probably vehemently oppose.

There’s an old saying about nothing being stronger than the heart of a volunteer, and that is what I’ve observed—and been humbled by—throughout this process.

I’ve watched people give up hundreds of hours of their time, sacrifice business opportunities, and risk embarrassment (or worse) to protect the Celery Fields. Business owners, former journalists, retirees, birders and wildlife enthusiasts of all ages, and—yes—people whose interest in activism has risen to levels deserving of the word, “professional,” have linked up with one another in a shocking display of heart.

Why?

It can only be because they care.

They care about beauty. They care about nature. They care about what sort of society we are creating. They care about what we do with Publicly-owned land. They care about our water supply and the health of estuaries and aquatic wildlife. They care about the birds and the beautiful habitat that’s been created over the last twenty-plus years, by accident or not. They care about preserving the peaceful serenity of the Palmer corridor, which only looks “industrial” on maps created during the Reagan Administration. They care about the two thousand homes—soon to exceed 2,600 with new developments going in—and the neighborhoods that have grown up around them. They care about Tatum Ridge Elementary School and the 700 students, not to mention the hardworking faculty and staff, just down the street.

And it’s been my honor to work alongside such caring people. Maybe in other circumstances and on other questions, the things we care about would find us disagreeing.

But after months of working alongside people of this quality, I must say I’m more inclined than ever to really listen and to try to understand where they’re coming from and to see if perhaps there aren’t better ways to solve our problems than the bitter public thrashings that seem to be the order of the day.

In other words, I care too—about the Celery Fields, sure—but more importantly, about the people I’ve come to know through this unique experience.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from the County Commissioners. That means today we’re all busy making our final preparations. Regardless of the outcome, I want all of you to know how much I have grown to deeply respect and appreciate you. Thank you for the honor of working with you.

Help Preserve Sarasota’s Celery Fields

Sarasota’s Celery Fields are truly a local treasure—for nature lovers, bird watchers, fitness junkies, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. But they are being threatened with dangerous industrial development that could destroy the natural habitat for local wildlife, not to mention the peace and tranquility of the area that we’ve all come to know and love.

I plan to participate in the protest this Saturday to help spread the word about the proposed development projects that could destroy the Celery Fields. I hope you’ll join me as well.

The Next 4 Years: More of the Same?

Centralized manipulation of the economy — through money creation and public borrowing — will, I’m afraid, continue under the next administration.

While the populace are distracted by the battle between the left and the right, mostly over social issues, the train keeps rolling full steam toward a cliff. In a piece published yesterday by the Mises Institute, Congressman Ron Paul argues that changing monetary policy is the only way to truly root out the causes of income inequality.

He concludes, much like I did recently when writing about the exorbitant increases in public debt, that the outcome of this election may not matter as much as we think.

Congratulations to Rod Thomson!

huge congratulations to my good friend and sometime collaborator, Rod Thomson, on the launch of his new project The Revolutionary Act.

Rod is an insightful thinker with a strong dedication to principles, which makes discussing topics of all kinds with him a joy. He challenges me to think, and I am always the better for it. Not only is he a veteran journalist and a published author, but he’s makes frequent radio and television appearances to discuss public policy and other issues of the day.

I’ve been bugging him for months to start blogging. I’m excited that he’s finally doing it! Can’t wait to see what comes of this!

No Soliciting: Should Candidates for Office Go Door-to-Door?

No Soliciting Sign - Photo: Marcus Quigmire via Flickr

He knocked on our door around mid-day on a quiet Saturday—something that almost never happens in our neighborhood.

Thankfully, I had the advantage of being able to see him through the glass panes of our front door. I knew several things about him at once: he wasn’t one of our neighbors or friends (any friends of ours would’ve called first, of course), he was well-groomed and neatly dressed (casual, but put-together), and bore all the outward signs of being a respectable human being.

But… as someone who takes the safety of his family very seriously, I know that outward appearances can be deceiving.

  • Does he have “pals” waiting in the bushes just beyond my view?
  • Is he a sex offender?
  • Is he here to see whether I have kids?
  • He can see through the glass panes just like I can… is he here to case the joint? Should I have a weapon when I approach the door?

Mind you… I live in a solidly middle-class suburban neighborhood. It’s not a gated community, so perhaps if he were here with some sort of evil or malicious intent, he might’ve chosen a different neighborhood.

And he might’ve chosen a weekday when we aren’t likely to be home.

But still… there are types (pedophiles, for example) that are looking for homes with kids when everyone is at home so they can see what conditions might be like.

I made sure I knew the whereabouts of everyone in my family, and then I opened the door and stepped partially out onto the stoop.

He greeted me with a warm smile, “Hi, I’m _______, and I’m running for _______”

I’m dropping the name and the exact local office he’s running for to protect the innocent… or guilty, as the case may be.

He offered me a flyer or brochure, I’m not sure which, because I wasn’t looking at it. My eyes were 100% on him… still trying to accurately assess the situation.

I cut him off mid-sentence. “Did you see the ‘No Soliciting’ sign at the entrance of the neighborhood?”

“Oh no… I didn’t notice that,” he said, almost sheepishly.

Maybe he did… maybe he didn’t. I’m not sure.

I proceeded to let him know that the sign is legally posted at the entrance to the subdivision and that we have it there for a reason.

The rest of the conversation was pretty brief. I don’t think I was rude to him, although I might’ve been. I certainly didn’t take the flyer he was offering.

Good Hustle, My Friend

Look… I appreciate the challenges that candidates for local office face. It’s hard to get the word out about your candidacy, your beliefs, your strengths, and all the other reasons why you believe you should be elected.

And I’ve gotta tell you, I truly respect the effort and the chutzpah that it takes to go door to door and introduce yourself to voters.

I’ve done plenty of cold-calling in my life… for business, for charitable work, for… you name it—face to face, on the phone, and even online.

Any time you approach an unwilling subject and interrupt their life, you know you’re going to get every kind of reaction known to mankind. And most of them will reject you. My hat is off to anyone who knowingly faces that and goes for it anyway.

Seriously… respect, my friend.

Were I in some sort of advisory role for a candidate like him (which I am not, for the record… not at the moment, at least), I might even suggest that door-to-door solicitation would be a smart move. It puts you in front of the voters, lets them see your face, look you in the eye, shake your hand, and hear from you—straight from the horse’s mouth—why you’re running and what you have to offer.

I mean… even if the voters don’t agree with your positions, you will benefit from a simple human dynamic that we know makes a difference on election day: people vote for candidates with which they are familiar.

This guy was a nice enough guy… at least as much as I could gather from the 20-second conversation we had as I eyed him warily on my front porch.

And he was smart enough to walk straight down my driveway, get into his vehicle (yes, I noted the make, model & color—not that I really needed to… after all, he introduced himself by name), and drive right out of the neighborhood.

I looked him up after he left. He’s a family man. He’s got to understand the difficulties faced by someone like me who wonders exactly who it is that has marched right up to my front door.

But all of those factors that are in his favor can’t overcome one simple fact: any subdivision with a “No Soliciting” sign is off limits.

The sign serves as legal notice, so any law enforcement officer (or judge, if it got that far) would not accept the “I didn’t notice it” excuse.

If you’re going door-to-door, it is incumbent upon you to know whether you’re legally allowed to solicit in that neighborhood or not.

“Well I’m Not Selling Anything”

Fair enough. There are specific Florida statutes (501.022, for example), that regulate the behavior of commercial solicitors.

I’m not an attorney, and I haven’t researched any case law where political candidates are concerned. So… I could be wrong about the specific legality of the actions of my unnamed new friend.

However, there are also Florida statutes (102.031, for example) that regulate the behavior of people involved in conducting elections, and that particular subchapter specifically uses the term “solicit” to refer to the action of “soliciting” votes (although it specifically deals with actions that occur at polling places).

So… our “No Soliciting” sign could clearly be construed to apply to people soliciting votes. We don’t, after all, specify the type & nature of the solicitation.

Regardless of whether or not a Court would find that a political candidate soliciting votes had violated the law by ignoring a “No Soliciting” sign, the voters themselves might find it pretty easy to believe that the candidate had broken the law.

And after all… do you want to vote for someone who ignores the law (or at the very least, your stated wishes) in the very act of soliciting your vote?

I don’t think so.

For the record: I may or not find myself casting a vote for this guy on election day. It remains to be seen. I haven’t evaluated him nor his opponent(s), as of yet.

As for the matter of him coming to my door? I’m going to withhold judgment on that particular issue as I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt over whether he actually saw the sign or not. For now. Especially since he did the right thing and immediately left the neighborhood after we spoke.

But if you’re a candidate for office, you would certainly do well to notice the signs at the entrance of any subdivision you enter. Others might not be so kind.

Photo: Marcus Quigmire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Day Rand Fights Back

Senator Rand Paul Suing President Obama Over NSA Spying

Senator Rand Paul Suing President Obama Over NSA Spying
Senator Rand Paul
Photo: Gage Skidmore (Flickr: Rand Paul) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday, this website joined thousands of other websites in promoting The Day We Fight Back, a protest against massive illegal spying on US citizens by the NSA and other federal government agencies.

On one of our sister sites, I took the time to explore in greater detail why it’s time to pay attention to the NSA, which offers a bit of a primer in just how egregious this violation of our 4th Amendment rights really is.

The Day We Fight Back was more than just a protest, actually. With a banner displayed at the bottom of participating sites, visitors were given the opportunity to contact their legislative representatives via email and a phone call in order to express their views about the illegal activities and to request the support of two bills: the USA Freedom Act and the FISA Improvements Act.

More Legislation Is Not the Answer

I hope you took the time to contact your legislators and express your views about this issue. (If not, you may still do so—as of today, anyway—at the protest site linked above.) The sitting representatives need to hear from us about how we feel when our Constitutional rights are being violated.

…which brings me to why I believe more laws are not the answer.

The fact is that we already have a law, the supreme law of the land, which already guarantees our rights where this is concerned.

And that supreme law is being violated.

I appreciate the fact that members of Congress need to author bills because it’s part of the game they play. It ignites support from their constituents, and it’s great when you’re doing your fundraising (they’re always doing fundraising, aren’t they?).

But why should I, as a US Citizen, feel any better because a new law guaranteeing me freedom from oppressive government activities gets passed?

This is why I believe Senator Rand Paul has the right idea. In a press release issued yesterday, Senator Paul announced:

“I am filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment. The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from general warrants. I expect this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court and I predict the American people will win.”

The lawsuit will also name National Intelligence Director James Clapper, outgoing NSA Director Keith Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey. Joining Senator Paul in the class action is Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks, and lead counsel Ken Cuccinelli.

While I’m sure this won’t hurt Senator Paul’s fundraising efforts either, this action is the right idea for our country. Congratulations to Senator Paul on using the checks and balances designed by the framers of our Constitution by going to the judicial branch of government to restrain the executive branch.

Now it’s our turn… it’s time for “we the people” to use our power as Citizens and vote based upon how well these politicians do or do not uphold the Constitution.