In the past few months, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has heard oral arguments in several noteworthy cases which could have profound impacts on various issues from freedom of speech and freedom of religion to privacy rights of corporations and immigration reform. Continue to watch our website for additional posting summaries and updates on these potentially landmark cases.
Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc.
(Oral Argument held on January 19, 2011)
Privacy rights of corporations have been at issue in numerous cases through the years, but this case takes a look specifically at whether a corporation has privacy rights similar to that of an individual.
Basic Facts: In 2004, AT&T voluntarily disclosed to the FCC that one of its subsidiaries had erroneously charged the Federal E-Rate program for services provided to a Connecticut school district. After the FCC opened an investigation and requested voluminous amounts of internal documentation from AT&T, the FCC and AT&T reached a settlement of the matter. The settlement, however, was not well-received by Comp-Tel, a trade association representing long-distance telephone service providers, local phone carriers, and other AT&T competitors, and Comp-Tel requested documents from the FCC under the FOIA. The FCC refused to produce sensitive cost and billing data it had received from AT&T but also refused AT&T's request to withhold the rest of the investigatory file, which AT&T claimed was subject to Exemption because it "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The FCC explicitly rejected AT&T's claim of personal privacy and stated that the exemption applied only to the personal privacy rights of individuals.
Previous Litigation: After AT&T filed an unsuccessful appeal with the FCC, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously disagreed with the FCC's interpretation of the FOIA exemption at issue and held that the Administrative Procedure Act in which the FOIA is included specifically defines "person" to include a corporation.
Question for the Court: Does a certain Freedom of Information Act exemption which exempts from disclosure information compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure of such information could be considered an unwarranted invasion into "personal privacy" apply to corporations?