Corporations Do Not Have Personal Privacy Rights in Government Records, Groups Tell US Supreme Court

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Matt Jacob
Phone: 202.408.5565

Corporations Do Not Have Personal Privacy Rights in Government Records, Groups Tell US Supreme Court

WASHINGTON - Corporations should not be able to claim a personal privacy right to
try to shield government documents about them from public view, six
public interest organizations told the U.S. Supreme Court late Monday.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the groups urged the
court to grant review of and overturn a lower court decision holding
that corporations may invoke "personal privacy" as a legal basis for
claiming that embarrassing records should be withheld from public view.

The case is Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T. The groups
filing the brief - Public Citizen, Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive,
OpenTheGovernment.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - urge the court to review a
ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

In that case, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had
concluded that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the agency
to release certain records concerning its investigation of AT&T for
alleged overbilling of the government. AT&T sued the FCC to prevent
the release of the records, claiming that release would constitute an
unwarranted invasion of AT&T's "personal privacy." At AT&T's
urging, the Third Circuit extended FOIA's "personal privacy" exemption
for law enforcement records to corporations.

Unless the Supreme Court takes the case and reverses the Third
Circuit decision, records about safety violations at a coal mine,
environmental problems at an offshore oil rig, filthy conditions at a
food manufacturing plant, financial shenanigans at an investment bank
and many other records like these may be the subject of so-called
corporate privacy claims that could result in agencies withholding those
records from the public under FOIA.

"The number of now-public records that agencies and corporations may
claim can be kept from the public if this lower court ruling stands is
breathtaking," said Margaret Kwoka, the Public Citizen attorney who
wrote the brief. "We urge the Supreme Court to grant review and not
allow important records to be withheld based on the idea that
corporations have personal privacy interests."

Kwoka noted that in crafting FOIA, Congress carved out an exemption
for records that would reveal trade secrets.

"Corporations' valid competitive interests are already protected
under FOIA," Kwoka said. "They should not be allowed to circumvent the
limits of those protections by shoehorning their fears of bad publicity
into a FOIA exemption meant to protect only the intimate details of
individuals' lives."

Click
here
to read the groups' amicus brief.

 

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests. CREW advances its mission using a combination of research, litigation and media outreach.

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