Free Press Disses Personal Privacy Exemption For Corporations

Free Press
has filed a friend of the court brief in a case that could determine how
much information large companies, including media companies, have to
make public.

The group
said Wednesday it had filed the brief with the Supreme Court in support
of the FCC's contention that AT&T should have to make public
documents on equipment and services provided through the
FCC's E-rate program, which supplies broadband to schools and

The High
Court is hearing a challenge to a Third Circuit ruling that there was a
corporate privacy right that shielded the documents from a Freedom of
Information Act request by AT&T's competitors.

documents related to AT&T's discovery, and the FCC's ensuing
investigation, of possible AT&T overcharges to the government
program in New London, Conn. The FCC asked AT&T to produce the
as part of the investigation, which it did. CompTel, the association
industry association representing competitive communications providers
and suppliers, filed a FOIA to get access to the information and
AT&T objected. the FCC rejected that objection, and
AT&T took its case to federal court.

‘corporate personal privacy' right is simply an oxymoron," said Aparna
Sridhar, Free Press policy counsel, in announcing the brief's filing
with the court. "There is a significant cost to withholding
enforcement records from public disclosure that is mandated by the
law," she said. "The public has a right to know when large corporations
are violating the laws that govern their business practices, and what
the FCC is doing to enforce those laws and protect
the public. Granting AT&T a personal privacy right would
dramatically undermine much needed transparency on both of these

documents in question included pricing and internal e-mails that
AT&T argues fall under a FOIA exemption for "records or information
compiled for law enforcement the extent that
the production of such law enforcement records or information...could
reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal

rejected the assertion of a corporate right of personal privacy, saying
the Third Circuit's "unprecedented" ruling "creates a new and amorphous
privacy concept that finds no support either
in FOIA's text or the uniform body of case law and commentary
that-until this case-instructed that FOIA's "personal privacy"
provisions protect only the interests of individuals.

The court is scheduled to hear the case in January, according to Free Press.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.