Like what the Supreme Court did for corporate speech rights in January with the Citizens United decision? Well, stay tuned, because there may be more just like that decision come this term.
That’s because the Court is set to take up the issue of whether or not corporations have privacy interests than can be constitutionally or statutorily protected. The issue arises in the form of a freedom of information dispute and, more specifically, seeks to answer the question of whether or not corporations may assert personal privacy interests to prevent the government from releasing documents about them when responding to a FOIA request.
The case involved information gathered by the Federal Communications Commission on AT&T during and investigation into the company’s participation in the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries get Internet access. The Obama administration has asked the Court to rule that corporations may not claim a personal privacy exception contained in the Freedom of Information Act as a means of avoiding disclosure of the information. AT&T thinks it can.
Justice Kagan has recused herself from the case since it was a matter before her as Solicitor General where she argued that privacy rights, especially in the context of a FOIA response, can only be asserted by individuals.
The implications of a ruling that AT&T can force the government to keep private information of corporate wrongdoing based on “individual privacy interests” has startling ramifications. Oftentimes governmental agencies are key players in corporate fraud and criminal investigations, and it is through FOIA requests that private citizens often gather crucial information necessary to protect their rights.
A ruling in AT&T’s favor here could be just shades away from allowing a corporation to invoke the 5th Amendment. Imagine the implications. Want to know what BP knew and when during the Deepwater Horizon spill? What about Goldman Sachs or Bank of America? Right now only individuals that are targets of investigation may assert such privacy rights because, logically, rights are individually held.
Or at least they were. Until January and the extension of corporate personhood to its illogical extreme.
Given the decidedly pro-business bias of the Roberts Court there’s a lot to be worried about here.
photo courtesy of blmurch via Flickr