Supreme Court rejects AT&T corporate privacy rights

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 1, 2011 11:02am EST

The AT&T logo is seen at their store in Times Sqaure in New York April 21, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The AT&T logo is seen at their store in Times Sqaure in New York April 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc and other corporations do not have personal privacy rights to prevent disclosure of federal government records about them, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The justices unanimously overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court for the telecommunications company that corporations can assert personal privacy in claiming the records should be exempt from disclosure.

The high court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with the Obama administration's argument that the personal privacy exemption under the Freedom of Information law applied only to individuals, not to corporations.

Public interest groups supported the government.

They said that under AT&T's position, government records could be withheld about coal mine safety violations, offshore oil rig problems, dirty conditions at food manufacturing plants and questionable investment bank financial dealings.

Business groups supported AT&T and said corporations have long enjoyed a range of rights, including privacy rights.

AT&T argued the Federal Communications Commission should keep secret all records about it during an investigation into its participation in the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries get Internet access.

AT&T told the FCC in 2004 that an internal investigation had revealed certain irregularities in the company's billings to a Connecticut school under the program.

AT&T TO PAY $500,000

The FCC launched an investigation that led to a December 2004 settlement in which AT&T agreed to pay $500,000 and to adopt a two-year compliance program.

CompTel, a trade association representing some of AT&T's competitors, requested all records in the FCC's file under the Freedom of Information Act.

The FCC decided to release some of the records, but AT&T said that disclosing any information violated its right to personal privacy, and the appeals court agreed.

Roberts in the Supreme Court's opinion overturned that decision.

He said the word personal ordinarily referred to individuals and dictionary definitions also suggested that it does not usually relate to corporations. Roberts said AT&T provided scant support that personal denoted corporations.

The Supreme Court case is FCC v. AT&T, No. 09-1279.

(Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Maureen Bavdek)

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Comments (3)
jfc14 wrote:
So When Federal Agencies demand, tells or requests that at&t spy or get information on terrorist they (at&t) is required to tell anyone the outcome under the “Freedom of Information Act”?

Mar 01, 2011 7:48pm EST  --  Report as abuse
jfc14 read better… you can do better than this… are you a tea party supporter? if you are do not read… go with what you believe…

Mar 02, 2011 11:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
Mediaman wrote:
Isn’t it funny that the Supremes can confer some rights of Citizenship on corporations a la Corporate free speech rights ruled permissible in the 2010 decision that allowed corporations, unions, nonprofit’s and other “artificial constructs of law” to sponsor virtually unlimited “issue-related” advertising programs, yet reasonably not confer further rights of citizenship in the area of privacy?
The Supremes were wrong in the political speech ruling, and right in this privacy ruling.
Nothing in the Constitution gives artificial constructs of law-corporations and other legally-derived constructs-rights and privileges reserved for Citizens, nor should it.
As much as free enterprise is a contributing factor in the success of the American system, it is not the controlling factor. Individual freedom, and responsibility, should control.
Corporations are not Citizens; it’s that simple.
If they were, we would soon have Facebook running for President.

Mar 02, 2011 5:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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