The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeal of case that involves the application of a personal privacy exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to federal agency law enforcement records involving corporations. FCC v. AT&T Inc., No. 09-1279 (U.S., certiorari granted September 28, 2010). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals barred the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from releasing information about an investigation of AT&T, finding that the company has a right to personal privacy under FOIA’s exemption 7(c). This exemption allows agencies to withhold law enforcement records where their disclosure would result in an invasion of personal privacy.
Those opposing the Third Circuit’s interpretation have suggested that if it is upheld, records such as meat inspection reports could be withheld “on the theory that the meat processor’s privacy rights would be invaded because of the public ‘embarrassment’ the corporation might feel if its filthy processing plant conditions were known.” They also suggest that Food and Drug Administration food safety inspection reports could be exempt from disclosure as well as the quarterly enforcement reports of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. AT&T has reportedly argued that the Third Circuit was correct because FOIA defines the term “person” to include corporations. See Public Citizen Amicus Brief, May 2010; InsideEPA.com, October 1, 2010.