Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Don Owens, Deputy Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7767

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742

Nicholas Florko, Communications Officer, Global Trade Watch
w. (202) 454-5108

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog

Follow us on Twitter


May 25, 2010 

Corporations Do Not Have Personal Privacy Rights in Government Records, Groups Tell U.S. Supreme Court

If Lower Court Ruling Stands, Government Might Withhold Critical Records About Mine Safety Violations, Problems at Oil Rigs 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - 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.”

The brief is available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/FCCAmicus.pdf.

More information about the case is at http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=606.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit public interest organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.


Copyright © 2016 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.


To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.