AT&T v. FCC challenged a lower court ruling that allowed a corporation to shield information held by the government with the "invasion of personal privacy" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. Chief Justice John Roberts used as much analysis of syntax as law in writing his decision for a unanimous court (Justice Kagan did not participate).
Know your rights
When some of AT&T's competitors filed a FOIA request with the FCC for AT&T filings that included sensitive pricing information, the FCC protected some of the materials as "trade secrets and commercial or financial information" and others as ""records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." It was the personal privacy of staff, contractors, and customer representatives the agency was protecting.
But AT&T argued that corporations themselves have a right to "personal privacy" when the information could prove embarrassing. In the post-Citizens United world, corporations figure that if they are "persons" with First Amendment rights, they should be entitled to "personal privacy" protection as well.
The Supremes are not amused
The Supreme Court didn't buy it as a matter of law, grammar, or common sense. "Personal" in the phrase "personal privacy" conveys more than just "of a person." It suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concerns -- not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T. To add a bit of emphasis, Chief Justice Roberts ended the decision with a flourish:
The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information 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.Recommended: