On September 28, 2010, the Supreme Court agreed to a request from the Obama administration to take up a case involving claims made by telecommunications giant AT&T to keep secret the information gathered by the Federal Communications Commission during an investigation.
The administration wants the high court to rule that corporations may not claim a personal privacy exception contained in the federal Freedom of Information Act.
AT&T wants the FCC to keep secret all the information it gathered from the company during an investigation into its participation in the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries get Internet access.
The FCC had released some of the information under an open records request, but withheld some, citing FOIA exemptions that cover trade secrets and humans' right to privacy.
AT&T won at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the plain language of the Freedom of Information Act allowed certain government documents to be withheld if it could “reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Elsewhere in the act it defines “person” as “individual, partnership, corporation, association or public or private organization other than an agency.”
The FCC argued the common meaning of “personal privacy” means “personal,” as in human person. But the Third Circuit held otherwise. And the Supreme Court ruled similarly in Citizens United vs. FEC, the case that extended First Amendment rights to corporations and unions, overturning campaign-finance limits Congress placed on them.
The appeals court sent the matter back to the FCC to determine if the disclosure of the records would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
The administration said the appeals court's ruling "threatens to impose barriers to the public disclosure of government records concerning corporation malfeasance in government programs that the public has a right to review."
The Supreme Court is expected to hear
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