U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh Whether Corporations Have ‘Personal Privacy’ Rights Under the Freedom of Information Act

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Phone: 202-588-1000

U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh Whether Corporations Have ‘Personal Privacy’ Rights Under the Freedom of Information Act

Government Transparency, FOIA Expert Available for Interview

WASHINGTON - On Wed., Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear
arguments in a case that pits the rights of the American public to
government information against the desires of big businesses to keep
secrets. Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T presents
the question of whether government agencies can withhold records from
the public on the ground that their release would invade the “personal
privacy” of corporations.

A ruling for AT&T in the case could have huge implications for
the public’s right to know about major events. Recent investigations of
national importance – such as those examining the activities of Goldman
Sachs, BP and Massey Energy – demonstrate how crucial it is for the
public to be able to access records obtained or created during
government investigations into corporations’ activities. If corporations
can claim their “personal privacy” would be invaded if records
containing unfavorable information about their activities were released,
the public would have a much harder time accessing information about
events like the economic downturn and the oil disaster, and about the
government’s reaction to them.

The Supreme Court case stems from a 2004 investigation by the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) into possible violations of the
Communications Act and FCC regulations by AT&T. After the
investigation ended, COMPTEL, a national trade association that
represents communications service providers, filed a Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) request for records about the investigation.  

AT&T sued the FCC to prevent the release of the records,
claiming, among other things, that releasing them would violate the
corporation’s “personal privacy” and that the records should therefore
be withheld under FOIA exemption 7(C), which permits the withholding of
law enforcement records where the release would be an unwarranted
invasion of “personal privacy.” Until this case, that exemption had been
understood to protect only human privacy interests. The 3rd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, however, held that corporations have protected
“personal privacy” interests under that exemption.

The FCC petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, and Public
Citizen filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the petition.
After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Public Citizen became
co-counsel for COMPTEL.

Please contact one of the numbers above to arrange an interview with
Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney involved in the case. An
expert on FOIA and government transparency, Rosenbaum has argued before
the Supreme Court and can discuss the issues in the case and the
implications for the public.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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