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Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T

COMPTEL, a national trade association that represents the interests of communications service providers and their supplier partners, filed a FOIA request with the FCC for records concerning the FCC’s investigation into AT&T for possible violations of the Communications Act and FCC regulations. AT&T sued the FCC to prevent the release of the records, claiming the records’ release would violate FOIA Exemption 7(C), which exempts from mandatory disclosure law enforcement records the release of which could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of “personal privacy.” Although Exemption 7(C) has always been understood to apply only to human privacy interests, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals adopted AT&T’s position that this personal privacy exemption should extend to corporations.

The government petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of the petition on behalf of itself, 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.

On September 28, 2010, the Supreme Court granted the petition. At the merits stage, Public Citizen was co-counsel for respondent COMPTEL, in support of the government. On March 1, 2011 the Court held that corporations do not have “personal privacy” rights under FOIA.