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Supreme Court Confirms No Personal Privacy for Corporations

by: Laurence Schecker

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.

Updated: April 18, 2012 - 12:22 PM
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