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
dowens@citizen.org

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779
kgower@citizen.org

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742
drosen@citizen.org

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

Other Important Links

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

Follow us on Twitter

 

March 1, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Victory: Decision Rejects Theory That Corporations Have ‘Personal Privacy’ Rights Under FOIA

Statement of Adina Rosenbaum, Attorney, Public Citizen

Note: Public Citizen’s Adina Rosenbaum was co-counsel for the FOIA requester CompTel in the U.S. Supreme Court.

We applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision this morning in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T holding that corporations do not have “personal privacy” rights under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As the Supreme Court recognized, “personal privacy” is not a term that is used to refer to corporate interests.
 
The Supreme Court’s decision is an important victory for government transparency. 

If records could be withheld on the theory that they would “embarrass” a corporation, as AT&T had argued, the public would be deprived of important information about corporate wrongdoing and the government’s response to it. 

We are pleased that FOIA will be able to continue to be used as intended, as an important tool for democracy and accountability, and that corporations cannot block disclosure by claiming release of records would harm their “personal privacy.”

 The case stems from a FOIA request for records relating to an investigation by the FCC into alleged overbilling of the government by telecommunications provider AT&T.

AT&T had argued that all of the records relating to the investigation should be exempt from disclosure under a FOIA exemption that applies to law enforcement records whose release would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Although the exemption had always been understood to apply only to individuals’ privacy, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had sided with AT&T in a decision last year.

 Today, the Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that personal privacy “suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concerns – not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T.” 

The fact that “person” is defined for FOIA purposes to include corporations does not change the meaning of “personal.” As the court pointed out, the word “corny” has little to do with corn, and the word “crabby” does not refer either to a crustacean or an apple.

Read more about this case.

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

 

You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.