Notice & Comment

Freedom of Information and Privacy: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Corporations Cannot Claim FOIA Law Enforcement/”Personal Privacy” Exemption, by Jonathan Rusch

On March 1, in a unanimous (8-0) decision in FCC v. AT&T, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations do not have “personal privacy” for the purposes of Exemption 7(C) of the Freeedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(7)(C). Exemption 7(C) creates an exemption from the general disclosure obligations of FOIA for law enforcement records the disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, found “no sound reason in the statutory text or context to disregard the ordinary meaning of the phrase ‘personal privacy'” (slip op. at 9), and found further clarification in the meaning of that term in the rest of FOIA, particularly Exemptions 4 and 6. (Id. at 9-11.) The decision puckishly concluded: “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.” (Id. at 12.) Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.

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