Earlier this week, the editorial board of the NY Times reviewed Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, a case currently before the Supreme Court which will decide to what extent (if any) corporations possess Constitutionally-protected privacy rights.
The case deals with whether AT&T can prevent the F.C.C. from releasing documents about the company’s overbilling of the government. The Third Circuit had previously decided that protections of “personal privacy” does indeed extend to corporations. According to the NY Times, the key to the ruling is the contention that “‘personal’ is the adjectival form of ‘person,’ and F.O.I.A. defines ‘person’ to include a corporation.”
In its editorial, the NY Times ominiously warns that “the creation of corporate privacy would transform [Freedom of Information of Act] into a battleground, between individuals and others seeking to hold the government accountable, including journalists, and corporations trying to block the release of records because of this new-found claim.”
And yet, based on their analysis of the oral arguments, the NY Times does not find it likely that the Third Circuit ruling will be upheld.
“Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. dismissed the idea that an adjective with the same root as a noun always absorbs the noun’s meaning: “You have craft and crafty. Totally different. Crafty doesn’t have much to do with craft. Squirrel, squirrelly. Right? I mean, pastor — you have pastor and pastoral. Same root, totally different.
AT&T’s lawyer said he was puzzled that the issue hadn’t come up before. Justice Stephen Breyer said it might be because other exemptions amply protect corporations. Justice Antonin Scalia was blunter and even more convincing: “Another reason might be that nobody ever thought that personal privacy would cover this.”
You can read the full editorial HERE.