Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the case of the FCC vs. AT&T, deciding that corporations do not have the right of personal privacy to prevent the disclosure of documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
At issue in the case was information gathered by the FCC during an investigation of AT&T’s participation in the E-rate program, a federal telecommunications discount-based program for public libraries and schools. In December of 2004, the parties reached an agreement to resolve allegations the FCC made against AT&T on overcharging the government. Some time later, COMPTEL, a trade group that represented some AT&T competitors, filed a FOIA request for information the FCC had collected on AT&T during their investigate
In response, AT&T filed suit and claiming that as a corporation it had a reasonable expectation of “personal privacy” and thus the FOIA request was not applicable.
In writing the unanimous opinion of the court, Chief Justice Stevens offered up an educational, and somewhat cheeky, lesson on the English language in his opinion, writing, “The protection of FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”