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November 17, 2010
2:09 PM

CONTACT: Free Press

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35

Free Press Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Case on Corporate Personhood

Corporations Cannot Claim 'Personal Privacy' Privileges Under the Freedom of Information Act

WASHINGTON - November 17 - Yesterday, Free Press filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in FCC v. AT&T, Inc., which will be heard by the Supreme Court on Jan. 19, 2011.

The case asks the Court to decide whether corporations may claim "personal privacy" rights when trying to prevent mandatory disclosure of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA requires that the government release agency records to anyone who requests them, unless those documents fall under one of several exemptions.

Before the FCC and in the Court of Appeals, AT&T argued that the Federal Communications Commission should not disclose records of an FCC enforcement proceeding because AT&T has a personal privacy interest in protecting its corporate reputation under FOIA Exemption 7(C). This exemption states that law enforcement records need not be disclosed if their release "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with this interpretation, and the FCC petitioned for and was granted certiorari in the Supreme Court.

Aparna Sridhar, Free Press policy counsel, made the following statement:

"A 'corporate personal privacy' right is simply an oxymoron. In this case, AT&T seeks to extend a deeply held individual right to the artificial corporate form. We have always recognized our privacy rights to be grounded in notions of fundamental human dignity and autonomy, and we should not deploy these rights as mere tools to promote corporate goals.

"There is a significant cost to withholding enforcement records from public disclosure that is mandated by the law. The public has a right to know when large corporations are violating the laws that govern their business practices, and what the FCC is doing to enforce those laws and protect the public. Granting AT&T a personal privacy right would dramatically undermine much needed transparency on both of these fronts.

"The Court should take the opportunity to restore the privacy rights embodied in FOIA as a shield for vulnerable individuals rather than a sword for large corporations."

The docket number for the case is 09-1279. A link to the brief is here:


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