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Blog Posts by Laurence Schecker

Supreme Court Confirms No Personal Privacy for Corporations

March 30, 2011 - 11:41 AM

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On March 1, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously (with Justice Kagan not participating) confirmed the longstanding position of the Commission that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Exemption 7(C) does not protect the personal privacy of corporations. Exemption 7(C) permits agencies to withhold from mandatory public disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of “personal privacy.” AT&T had argued that as a corporation it, too, was entitled to “personal privacy.” Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts indicated that Exemption 7(C)’s use of the word personal “suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concerns – not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T.” He continued, “AT&T has given us no sound reason in the statutory text or context to disregard the ordinary meaning of the phrase personal privacy” as being limited to the privacy interests of individuals.

The Court’s decision supports the Commission’s commitment to increased transparency and openness in government by giving this FOIA exemption its natural and more limited reading, hence refusing to expand the universe of records that may be withheld from the public.

If you're curious about the case and want to learn more, here's the decision (pdf) as delivered by Chief Justice Roberts.

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Chief FOIA Officer Report Shows Continued Progress

March 30, 2011 - 11:37 AM

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The FCC’s second annual Chief FOIA Officer Report (Word doc) shows continued progress at the FCC in ensuring public access to Commission records through the Freedom of Information Act and by Internet posting. General Counsel Austin Schlick, the FCC’s Chief FOIA Officer, led a review of the Commission’s FOIA operations. Key points in the report include:

  • The FCC granted in whole or in part 97.9% of the initial FOIA requests it has received in FY 2011, up from 95.3% in FY 2010 and 94.2% in FY 2009.
  • The Commission is expanding the use of redaction software to ensure that records properly withheld under a FOIA exemption are properly redacted and marked with the applicable exemption.
  • The increase in records available on FCC.gov has reduced the need of the public to seek records through the FOIA. The FCC has more than doubled the number of pages of records available on its website since 2008. At the same time, the number of initial FOIA requests received by the FCC declined from 659 in FY 2009 to 598 in FY 2010 and is on pace to decline again in FY 2011.
  • The already small backlog of FOIA requests and applications for review is being further reduced. 
  • Much credit for the smooth handling of the Commission’s FOIA program goes both to members of the Office of Managing Director’s Performance Evaluation and Records Management FOIA staff and to staff throughout the agency that process FOIA requests. They work hard to ensure responses to FOIA requests are timely and complete.

The Chief FOIA Officer welcomes suggestions to help the FCC’s FOIA program continue to operate successfully and to improve.

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