The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear a case regarding the scope of the privacy protections afforded under Exemption 7(c) of the federal Freedom of Information Act. The case involves a records dispute between the Federal Communications Commission and AT&T.
The records in question relate to an FCC investigation into whether AT&T over-billed the government for its involvement in E-Rate, a program to provide telecommunications equipment to elementary and secondary schools. In response to a FOIA request filed by a third party, the FCC planned to release the documents.
However, AT&T sued to prevent disclosure. It claimed the release of the documents would violate the company's privacy rights and that FOIA exemption 7(c) should be applied to protect the records from disclosure. This is known as a "reverse FOIA" case.
Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) ruled in favor of AT&T, expanding the scope of the 7(c) privacy exemption to recognize corporate and personal privacy rights. Under previous law, it was generally held that corporations did not have privacy rights.
In April, the FCC filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting that it hear the case. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the FCC in May.