No Privacy Right For Corporations, High Court Says

Corporations cannot shield documents against public disclosure by claiming a “personal privacy” right, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. AT&T had sued the FCC to prevent the it from releasing internal AT&T documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from AT&T competitors.

The FCC had obtained the documents from AT&T during an investigation of AT&T overcharging the government for services to schools and libraries. All documents held by federal agencies are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) unless they fall under certain exemptions. AT&T had successfully blocked some disclosures under the exception for “trade secrets and commercial or financial information,” but AT&T additionally claimed that some documents would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” of the corporation.

In rejecting AT&T’s argument, Chief Justice John Roberts said that even though the term “person” includes corporations, that does not necessarily mean that “personal privacy” includes privacy of corporations. He noted many cases where related nouns and adjectives have widely differing meanings, such as “corn” and “corny,” and “crank” and “cranky.” He also pointed out that, in common usage, people say “personal” to mean the opposite of “business,” such as when talking about “personal expenses” and “business expenses.”

“Certainly,” Roberts wrote, “if the chief executive officer of a corporation approached the chief financial officer and said, ‘I have something personal to tell you,’ we would not assume the CEO was about to discuss company business.”

AT&T has not said what the documents contain, but at oral argument in January AT&T’s lawyer gave an example of the kind of document that would not be protected by the “trade secret” exception. He said emails between corporate officers disparaging customers could only be protected under a “personal privacy” exception.

The 12-page opinion (short by Supreme Court standards) was written by Chief Justice John Roberts for a unanimous court, excepting Justice Elena Kagan, who worked on the case while Solicitor General. The case was FCC v. AT&T.

About Jay Goodman Tamboli

View all posts by Jay Goodman Tamboli

House Gives Obama Authority To Arm/Train Syrian Rebels To Fight ISIS

The House debated for six hours on the issue Wednesday.

LISTEN: The Day Ahead – September 18, 2014

The Day Ahead Logo

Chinese President Xi Jinping continues his tour of India, John Kerry testifies before the House, and the US energy secretary visits his Canadian counterpart.

House Democrats Attempt To Force Vote On ENDA

Capitol

ENDA would outlaw the practice of discriminating against Americans when applying for jobs based on sexual orientation or personal gender identification.

LISTEN: The World in 2:00 – September 17, 2014

The World in 2:00 continents logo

Scotland braces for Thursday’s critical independence referendum. Comedian Eddie Izzard and rockers Franz Ferdinand weigh in.

House Dems Slam Republicans On Education

The following is from the office of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

Biden Apologizes For Dropping Anti-Semitic Slur

“It was a poor choice of words,” Biden said in a statement.