Prof. Daniel Greenwood Discusses Idolatry of Corporations, Impersonal Privacy

FCC v. AT&T: The Idolatry of Corporations and Impersonal Privacy
Harvard Law and Policy Review
By: Daniel JH Greenwood
August 14, 2011


“You shall not make molten gods for yourselves.” Ex. 34:17

This Term, in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T Inc.,[1] the Supreme Court held that Exemption 7(C) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not extend a right of “personal” privacy to corporations. The Third Circuit had reasoned that, because the statute defines the word “person” to include corporations, the word “personal” must also include “corporate.”[2] In a victory for ordinary English usage, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Third Circuit’s tin ear. Lawyers often call corporations “persons,” but that does not mean that “personal” privacy includes “impersonal” or “business” secrets.

Liberal political theory is based on a fundamental suspicion that our governing institutions, without which we cannot live a decent life, also may be a threat to the same freedom they are intended to protect. Power can be used for good or ill; when we place concentrated power in the hands of individuals or institutions, we must guard against its abuse. We therefore limit the discretion of government, tying it to popular will by elections and restraining its scope by theories of fundamental rights and privacy.

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