Corporations Don’t Have Personal Privacy Rights

Now, in my view that headline isn’t exactly, um, headline news. I mean, frankly, we usually use “business” as the opposite of “personal.” See, e.g. “The Godfather.” But despite that overwhelming authority, this case went to the Supreme Court. The question was whether AT&T could assert a personal privacy exception to prevent the production of certain records under the federal Freedom of Information Act that AT&T had produced to the Federal Communications Commission. AT&T argued that the FOIA statute includes “corporations” under its definition of “person,” and so, it must be allowed to assert a “personal privacy” interest. The Supreme Court didn’t buy it. As the court pointed out, while the FOIA statute defines “person,” it does not define “personal.” And when terms are not defined, courts apply the ordinary meaning. And in an ordinary meaning, a corporation simply doesn’t have the type of feelings that we associate with “personal privacy.” Good call. Of course, some court watchers were concerned that the Citizens United decision – where the Court ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights – could have been extended here. Apparently that concern was unwarranted.