Columbia, SC – Today, Michael Whatley, Executive Vice President of Consumer Energy Alliance, a national consumer advocate, met with key local and state officials about the organization’s concerns with the recent abuse of its comment system and provided the following statement:
“Today, Consumer Energy Alliance met with key members of the South Carolina legislature and other state officials to review our preliminary information regarding the probable inappropriate use of a recent online public comment opportunity. CEA believes certain individuals may have improperly entered names of local individuals without their knowledge or consent. CEA’s preliminary review shows inconsistencies in addresses, emails that were registered out of state, and irregularities with IP addresses. These entries appear to be targeted and designed to manipulate an online comment system.”
“This is very serious to us since comment collection is an important and common practice used by public officials, companies, advocacy groups, and non-profits to seek feedback on issues that are important to the community. Like us, these groups rely heavily on the honesty of the individual and the information they submit. Any hacking or misrepresenting that information in the process represents a compromise to the system and should be a concern to all.
“For someone to knowingly violate the public trust and apparently enter false names undermines public confidence in the system and our fundamental ability to have a public discussion about key policy choices.
“CEA staff initially discovered these irregularities on Saturday, February 17th, and we alerted the Attorney General’s Office first thing on Monday morning, February 19th. We stand behind our methodology in collecting comments – which is similar to the ways Members of Congress and other advocacy groups collect comments.
“While it appears that the majority of letters submitted through our online portal are legitimate, we are very concerned with the few that are not. We look forward to working with the proper authorities in South Carolina to find out who falsely entered these names.”