The Supreme Court of the United States ruled Tuesday that AT&T and other corporations do not have personal privacy rights under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to make documents publicly available upon request, but contains an exemption for documents that “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Claiming they were a “corporation citizen,” AT&T tried to use the personal privacy exemption to prevent the disclosure of federal government documents about the company.
The unanimous decision in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc. reversed a ruling by a US appeals court in favor the telecommunications company.
“Personal’ in the phrase ‘personal privacy’ conveys more than just ‘of a person,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision. “It suggest a type of privacy evocative of human concerns—not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T.”
“We reject the argument that because ‘person’ is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase ‘personal privacy’ in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well,” he said.
“The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations.”
“We trust that AT&T will not take it personally,” Roberts added. “The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.”
The decision is a striking contrast to the court’s ruling in Citizens United, which upended decades of campaign finance regulation, allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without having to identify themselves.