Feeds

US Supremes trash AT&T's claims to 'personal privacy'

Ma Bell not exempt from FOIA

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The US Supreme Court has made it official: AT&T and other corporations have no right to personal privacy under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a unanimous ruling (PDF), the high court shot down arguments that the Federal Communications Commission shouldn't have to turn over documents compiled during an investigation from 2004. The information concerned allegations that AT&T overcharged the government for assistance in an FCC-administered program to build out advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries.

The documents included responses to interrogatories, invoices and emails containing pricing and billing information.

A trade association called CompTel invoked the FOIA in a request that sought all pleadings and correspondence in the FCC's investigation files. After the FCC agreed to turn over some of the material, AT&T objected and cited a section of the FOIA that exempts “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes” that “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

AT&T lawyers argued that Congress has defined the word “person” to include corporations as well as individuals. The phrase “personal privacy,” they said, should therefore be construed to include information that would embarrass the corporation.

The US Supremes flatly rejected AT&T's reasoning. Under established precedent, the high court said, federal courts apply standard definitions to words contained in statutes, unless a statute provides its own specialized definition. Congress may have provided a specific definition for “person,” but it doesn't automatically transfer to the adjectival form of that noun.

“Adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, but not always,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. “Sometimes they acquire distinct meanings of their own. As support, he contrasted the difference between “crab” and “crabbed,” “corn” and “corny,” and “crank and cranky.”

“We do not usually speak of personal characteristics, personal effects, personal correspondence, personal influence, or personal tragedy as referring to corporations or other artificial entities,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “This is not to say that corporations do not have correspondence, influence, or tragedies of their own, only that we do not use the word 'personal' to describe them.”

The decision also noted that other FOIA provisions already exempt trade secrets that belong to corporations. Justice Elena Kagan was recused from the case.

“We reject the argument that because “person” is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase “personal privacy” in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well,” Roberts wrote in summary. “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. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.” ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
'Stop dissing Google or quit': OK, I quit, says Code Club co-founder
And now a message from our sponsors: 'STFU or else'
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
Uber, Lyft and cutting corners: The true face of the Sharing Economy
Casual labour and tired ideas = not really web-tastic
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?