In a unanimous ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that corporations may not claim personal privacy rights to exempt disclosure of information under the federal Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA").
Corporate giant AT&T claimed that the Federal Communication Commission's release of investigative files to the public, and competitors, would cause it to suffer an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." AT&T's lawyers argued that the company, as a private corporate citizen, enjoyed personal privacy rights that protected it from government disclosure of embarrassing information.
This case followed closely a decision last year that invalidated campaign finance limits on independent corporate spending on political issues. In that case, the majority of justices held that corporations enjoyed the same free speech rights as citizens and candidates.
As a result, yesterday's decision was watched closely by court observers for a pro-business bias on the Court, where after finding corporations had free speech rights the Court could expand its view to corporations claiming personal privacy rights.
However, AT&T's request to exempt FCC disclosure of documents related to alleged overbilling investigation were rejected on the basis of a corporate claim to personal privacy. The decision turned on the Court's interpretation of "personal privacy" under the law passed by Congress.
Justice Roberts found that the word personal in the phrase "personal privacy" invoked human concerns not associated with a fictional entity like AT&T.