Corporations Do Not Have Privacy Rights

When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision last year many attacked the decision as an absurd extension of the legal fiction of corporate personhood.  In his now-famous dissent Justice Stevens snarked that the ruling paved the way for a host of private rights for corporations that had traditionally and legally been reserved only for actual persons.

Yesterday the Court corrected course just a bit in ruling against AT&T’s attempt to block disclosures under a Freedom of Information Act request by asserting a “privacy” right against self-incrimination.

But despite finding that corporations do in fact have speech rights, this time the Court clarified that corporations are not “humans” and therefore have no “personal rights” when it comes to privacy.

It wasn’t a small correction either.  The unanimous decision made it clear that AT&T could not avoid any potentially embarrassing or even criminal disclosures by asserting a personal privacy right.

The Court also took the time to clarify that while corporations are considered “persons” under the law, a “person” is not always a “person” when dealing with privacy interests.  According to the Court, “personal” can mean more than just of the person the same way “corny” can mean more than just “of corn.”

Showing a now-consistent comedic flourish in his opinions, the Chief Justice concluded by hoping that AT&T would not take their ruling “personally.”

While it is unlikely that the criticism of the decision bore any direct weight on this particular ruling, it is good to see the Court set some boundaries in terms of “corporate rights.”  Clearly citizens are concerned about the scope, reach and influence of corporate power.  To that end this is a decision that can help bring some sanity back into corporate personhood jurisprudence.

photo courtesy of ElectronicFrontierFoundation via Flickr


Teresa Cowley
Teresa Cowley5 years ago

Makes little sense to me--corporations are "a person", only they're not "a person"--yeah, okay!
...and let there be NO DOUBT in anyone's mind--Walmart, Dow, Monsanto, JP Morgan Chase, At&T, etc., do not have a heart!--they will never be THAT personable!!

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli7 years ago

don't really have a comment on this story but wanted to note that it was one of VERY few in this 'civil rights' group that is NOT about gay-rights. Did I miss something or are Gays the only one with civil rights troubles now?

Jessica C.
Jessica C7 years ago

I am glad for this ruling, maybe sanity is making a come back.

J C Bro
J C Brou7 years ago

My goodness, WalMart, AT&T, JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil, IBM, etc. have a heart after all. Wait, they are so personal now!

Give Life A Hand
Rae Z7 years ago

After all the crazy court decisions I've heard lately, I'm glad to see one that makes absolute, perfect sense.

Tery G.
Tery G7 years ago

They need to just admit they f'ed up and reverse the original mistake .

Olivia Schlosser
Past Member 7 years ago

A baby step....wish there would be a big leap to correct last year's mistake.

William G.
William Griffin7 years ago

Of course, you know why they decided the way they did, don't you? It's because none of the justices (gee calling them that is begining to sound like a bad joke) have ever worked for AT&T. Wait until CU wants to get into the fray on this. then they will start changing their opinions.

Nelson B.
Nelson Baker7 years ago

A small correction for a big mistake.

Tim R.
Tim R7 years ago

Big business will continue to take OUR $$ and make determinations based on what THEIR legal team(s) think what they can away with. When wrong in court, they just jack up everyone's bill to pay for it. These are whore house's with a tax #!