AT&T was handed a legal defeat on Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which decreed that the personal privacy protections of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) do not extend to corporations that seek to block public disclosure of potentially sensitive data submitted to the government. The case involves a 2005 decision by the FCC to release file documents to competitive local exchange trade association CompTel that relate to an agency investigation into services provided by AT&T to a Connecticut school district under the Universal Service Fund E-Rate program. In December 2004, AT&T signed a consent decree under which the company agreed to pay $500,000 to settle charges of overbilling that had arisen in connection with the agency’s investigation. Although AT&T did not admit to any wrongdoing, CompTel sought and won access to file records relating to the FCC’s probe under the FOIA. Challenging the FCC’s decision to release those records, AT&T cited an exemption in FOIA that bars the public release of government records when such action could “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” In 2009, the Third Circuit Court sided with AT&T and blocked release of the records in question, concluding that the legal definition of “person” also encompasses corporations. Overturning the Third Circuit order, the high court justices declared unanimously that the personal privacy protections of the FOIA do not extend to corporate entities. On behalf of his fellow justices, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, “when it comes to the word ‘personal,’ there is little support for the notion that it denotes corporations, even in the legal context.” Adding that the use of the word “personal” in the phrase “personal privacy . . . suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concern—not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T,” Roberts proclaimed: “AT&T’s effort to attribute a special legal meaning to the word ‘personal’ in this particular context is wholly unpersuasive.” CompTel applauded the Supreme Court ruling as one that “[reaffirms] the important principle that FOIA authorizes liberal disclosure of government records and that. . . exemptions must be narrowly construed.”