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Reporters Committee urges justices to reconsider corporate privacy

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined a friend-of-the-court brief this week asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case that could widely expand the ability of corporations to keep information out of the public eye if it is not overturned.

Nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the Reporters Committee and four other public interest groups filed the brief to explain why not overruling a decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) in FCC v. AT&T could undermine the intent of the Freedom of Information Act.

AT&T initiated its suit against the Federal Communications Commission seeking to halt the release of agency records under FOIA detailing an investigation into whether the telecommunications company over billed the government. The federal appeals court ruled last fall that corporate privacy is included in a public-records exemption that allows law enforcement agencies to withhold information that could threaten "personal privacy."

The FCC filed a petition in April asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of the Third Circuit opinion which created a vast expansion of the personal privacy exemption.

The FOIA exemption in question has historically allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold information that could cause harm to an individual's personal privacy, but whether this exemption can also be applied to protect corporate privacy rights has not been considered by the Supreme Court.

"The decision below warps the concept of ‘personal privacy’ in FOIA exemption 7 to cover the ’privacy’ interests of corporate entities, including those entities’ potential feelings of ‘embarrassment’ about their own conduct," the brief states.

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