Corporate Accountability

FCC v. AT&T

At issue in FCC v. AT&T was whether corporations are entitled to “personal privacy” under the Freedom of Information Act.

Case Summary

CAC filed a brief in this case on November 16, 2010, that helped answer that question by looking at how the Supreme Court has dealt with similar issues under the Constitution throughout our nation’s history. Like the APA, the Constitution uses the term “persons” (not “corporations”) and the Court, like Congress, has held in a number of contexts that corporations can be treated as “persons” for some purposes related to their legitimate business interests. But, throughout our history, the Court has also treated corporations as fictional persons – qualitatively different from human beings – and consistently held that only living, breathing human beings possess the dignity interests protected by privacy rights.

CAC’s brief argued that FOIA, like our Constitution, protects corporations and human beings differently, and for different reasons. In our brief, we discussed a long line of constitutional cases in which the Court has distinguished between the rights of individuals and those of corporations, particularly in the context of privacy, and argue that the Court should draw a similar distinction in interpreting FOIA. Our brief built off the work CAC has done on “corporate personhood,” both in our narrative, A Capitalist Joker, and in our brief in Citizens United v. FEC.

On March 1, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the FCC as CAC had urged, rejecting AT&T’s meritless argument that corporations are entitled to “personal privacy” under the Freedom of Information Act.

Case Timeline

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