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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Shareholder rights
November 24, 2010 at 9:36 AM

An obscure case would keep corporate information deeper in the shadows

The Supreme Court already overturned a century of jurisprudence to give corporations the same free-speech rights as humans, in the Citizens United case, allowing them to give essentially unlimited sums in political campaigns. (The same applies to unions, but they are a fading power on the American scene). Now another case may extend the “personhood” of corporations even further.

In FCC vs. AT&T, the issue is whether a corporation can be protected from the Freedom of Information Act, the landmark legislation that allows citizens and the press to gain access to information involving the government. When a government contract with a corporation is involved, it may be subject to full or partial disclosure under FOIA. But safeguards already exist to protect a company’s proprietary details. FOIA has been critical to informing Americans about everything from bankster misdeeds to contractor issues in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now AT&T is claiming a corporation has “personal privacy” and should be exempt from FOIA under all circumstances, just as an individual human would be. The original case involves over-billing a school district.

Nell Minow, the famous shareholder activist, comments on AT&T’s position: “This is absurd. An amicus (friend of the court) brief filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center argues that the lower court ruling ‘is contrary to widespread understanding, and almost nonsensical….an outlier, untethered to common understanding, legal scholarship, technical methods, or privacy law.’ “

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