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Supreme Court: AT&T Doesn’t Have ‘Personal Privacy’ Rights

A conservative majority of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts held last year that a corporation has similar free-speech rights to a human being in the controversial Citizens United decision. Apparently that encouraged AT&T’s lawyers to think that about what other types of rights that corporations might deserve-like, for example, privacy rights. Interesting idea, but the high court nixed it today in a unanimous decision that even poked a bit of fun at AT&T (NYSE: T).

The case stems from an FCC investigation into AT&T over-pricing certain equipment in sales to schools. The FCC investigation turned up a whole bunch of documents about AT&T pricing information, and after it was all over, a trade group that included AT&T competitors filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get its hands on some of those documents. AT&T wanted to block the release of some documents, saying its “personal privacy” rights were violated.

This is a pretty predictable result based on how poorly oral arguments went for AT&T. Overall, the case demonstrates that even a court that has been quite favorable to corporations won’t go overboard for them in the name of privacy.

But during oral argument in January, Roberts and other justices seemed to disdain the idea that AT&T had the same rights to privacy that a person might. Today, it issued this decision [PDF]dismantling AT&T’s arguments, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, which ends with this sentence: “We trust AT&T will not take it personally.”

Contacted for comment by the WSJ, an AT&T spokeswoman said simply: “We respect the court’s decision.”

Justice Elena Kagan didn’t take part in the decision; the case was one of many she recused herself from because she worked on it while she was Solicitor General.

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