Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Supreme Court Rules Corporations Don't Have Personal Privacy Rights Under FOIA

The U.S. Supreme Court today held, 8-0, that corporations do not have "personal privacy" for the purposes of the exemption from disclosure of records under FOIA. Justice Roberts totally rejected the idea that because a corporation can be considered a "person" under the law, a federal agency can and should withhold records that might be an unwarranted invasion of the corporation's personal privacy. Citing the context of the FOIA exemption, Congress' intent, longstanding interpretation of the law, the dictionary, and general understanding of the term "personal" when used with the word "privacy," Roberts ruled that the exemption was meant to protect people, not entities. The case is FCC v. AT&T.

Companies can still protect their trade secrets and other confidential information, so what does this mean? This does not change existing law, but business may want to consider that what is disclosed to an agency (in this case, in the course of contractual dispute with the FCC) can be disclosed to a business' competitors (as in this case).

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