Courts are often asked to determine whether certain rights that clearly apply to individuals also apply to entities (corporations, limited liability companies, etc.) In a recent decision, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, the United States Supreme Court determined that personal privacy protections contained in the Freedom of Information Act do not apply to corporations.
The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to provide documents to the public, unless those documents fall within a specific exception to the Act. One exception permits an agency to not disclose documents if disclosure would “cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” In the AT&T case, AT&T’s competitors requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provide documents relating to the FCC’s investigation of AT&T. The requested documents included information about AT&T and its employees. The FCC determined that documents containing private information about the employees fell within the exception to the Act, but that documents containing non-public information about AT&T, a corporation, did not. AT&T appealed the FCC’s determination.
The case ultimately made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court reviewed the common meaning of the word “personal,” the context of the Freedom of Information Act, and prior government interpretation of the “personal privacy” exception. The Court concluded that the “personal privacy” exception was only intended to protect individuals, not corporations. In the closing sentence of the Court’s opinion, the Court stated “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”