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Supreme Court rules corporations don’t have personal privacy

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that corporations have no right of personal privacy to prevent the release of documents requested through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The unusual feature was an 8-0 unanimous ruling, at a time when some critics have said the current Roberts court tilts in favor of business. The court ruling is here.

The ruling was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It reverses an appeals court ruling in favor of AT&T.

 "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," Roberts wrote. "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally."

The case stems from requests by a trade group, which includes some AT&T competitors, for documents that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) obtained during an investigation of possible overcharges committed by AT&T in a government contract.

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled in favor of AT&T, and the trade group appealed that decision.

While the ruling states there is no "personal" level of privacy for corporations, this decision still leaves corporations protections from broad FOIA requests.

Current laws prohibit the release of trade secrets and information that allows people to be personally identified.

In the AT&T case, the FCC had released some of the information under an open records request, but withheld other documents because of concerns that business secrets or humans' privacy might be compromised. 

Justice Elena Kagan abstained from the ruling as she worked on the case on behalf of the FCC.

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Tom Sowa
Tom Sowa covers technology, retail and economic development and writes the Office Hours blog.