The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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


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

"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:

Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.

(202) 265-1490