Supreme Court Agrees To See Whether Or Not AT&T Has 'Personal Privacy' Rights

from the do-corporations-have-privacy-rights? dept

Back in May, we wrote about an important case questioning whether or not companies have privacy rights. Traditionally, privacy rights were seen as being for individuals, not companies, but AT&T claimed that it had privacy rights over data collected by the FCC in an attempt to determine if AT&T was bilking the e-rate program (for installing broadband connections to schools). Some people filed a Freedom of Information Act request over the data, and the FCC released some of it (keeping some secret to protect trade secrets). However, AT&T sued the FCC claiming that even releasing the limited info the FCC was planning to put out would violate the company’s personal privacy. The Third Circuit appeals court in the case sided with AT&T, saying that companies could have personal privacy — and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has now announced that it will hear the case. The Obama administration had asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, claiming that it did not believe “personal privacy” applied to companies. Elena Kagan, who had filed the brief for the administration, will obviously sit the case out now that she’s a Supreme Court justice. However, this will be yet another, in a recent line of cases, trying to establish the boundaries (if there are any) between the rights of individuals and the rights of corporations.

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Companies: at&t, fcc

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Comments on “Supreme Court Agrees To See Whether Or Not AT&T Has 'Personal Privacy' Rights”

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91 Comments
interval (profile) says:

Re: Re: The courts are paid for

The “framers” decided the Gov. needed at least one branch to be a final authority, that wasn’t beholden to the election cycle. Otherwise the three branches would be no better than the three stooges; each can poke the other in the eyes and slap each other around. I agree. If the supremes were subject to the election cycle the government would be a more chaotic platform than it is now.

ofb2632 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The courts are paid for

The framers clearly did not think that that the Supreme Court justices would stoop to the low that they have. The framers never thought that the justices could or would be bought and paid for by the corporations. Back in the framers days, there was an honesty to politics and the judicial system.
Those times have come and gone. The justice system is just as corrupt and the legal and political environments. Eventually they have to be brought down.
If they are allowed to serve for the rest of their lifetime, make laws that prohibit them from residing in anything that they or their families have a vested interest in. Right now they can say that they can judge impartially and get away with it. It is very clear that some of the judges are not impartial at all. They are VERY biased.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, once we have our representatives representing the people, they will be indirectly representing the unions.

I see a union as a group of people with a common goal. I see a corporation as a beast with interchangeable parts that only seeks to beat down and exploit the public. I am all for helping the general public and balancing things out. Google is as close as has come for a corporation to actually care about the people in awhile. I do feel however that they only cared because their interests aligned for awhile. There have been some signs that this may be changing. We can only hope it does not.
I think a union could give to campaigns as long as each individual member chose to donate what they wanted to, and not over the max. None of the “well I donated 1.5X the amount to make up for Bob who only donated .5X”. To assist with this, they should not have privacy either. Really, I want to know that the people giving, are individuals, who are not having stuff given in their name.

A good example of what I do not want happening is the kind of shenanigans the RIAA pulls all the time, with the lawsuits having random artists sign on who later come out saying “Actually no, I didn’t say that suing people was okay, they just kind of did it on their own”. That is crap.

If a union is trying to lift up just a couple of its members and not everyone equally, then I am all for removing their rights as well (since they are no different than a corporation).

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If a union is trying to lift up just a couple of its members and not everyone equally, then I am all for removing their rights as well (since they are no different than a corporation).

Agreed, especially since many unions are run like corporations. However, corporations are groups of people who align themselves to a common goal, too (to make money, deliver a product, and so on.) Neither should have legal rights that individuals within those group enjoy. Corporations were originally set up to shield their members, not to act as a Frankenstein (an inanimate object given life, though in this case a purely legal fabrication of life.

If I am a member of a corporation, I should be able to vote as I see fit, even if my vote is similar to everyone else in the corporation. My problem is that corporations often (though it is illegal to do so directly,) “motivate” their employees to vote a particular way just like unions often do. I should be able to vote without having to worry about the corporation I work for firing me because I voted a particular way, or chose to donate to a particular politician (or not donate to a particular politician.) It should be my right to vote/donate exactly as I see fit, without fear of repercussion for voting a way my company does not agree with. If I choose to go the same way that the others in the corporation choose to go, then so be it. In order for this to work though, the individuals need privacy, but the organization as a whole should not get a chance to donate/vote, just its members individually. Why Microsoft or the RIAA can donate out of its profits or operating funds, money to a political party or politician is what I have real problems with. If the company pays the employee a salary, and the employee decides on their own to donate that money to a political party, I have no problem with it (because the employee could just keep the money or spend it on something else.)

Of course, this can be abused too, but there are ways to keep the abuse to a minimum (such as actually enforcing the election laws that already exist.)

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I completely agree with everything you said past the first paragraph. The first paragraph I can see where you are coming from and agree with some. I guess my view on what makes a corporation vs a company that cares is a little different from what is presented. I think too often a group of investors gets in, makes a ton of short sighted decisions to make a quick buck, and then screws the entire company. My best example of this would be K-Mart. They got screwed. And all the little people who had pensions lost it all. Enron kind of same deal. The rich people on top who screwed the company over to become rich should have their funds seized until the pension funds were built back up to where they were. (This also happened to my uncle who worked at a cemetery in the Midwest. Bought out by new people, they plundered the entire retirement fund and screwed over all the workers and left.)

Capitalist says:

Re: Corporate Voting

Why don’t we just give corporations the vote and be done with it?

Yes! That’s exactly what we should do! And I don’t imagine it will be long before we do. That way those with financial means can get as many votes as they can afford (which is how it should be) by creating and controlling corporations to do their bidding. Bravo! Long live capitalism!

Overcast (profile) says:

AT&T is a corporation and should not be entitled to ANY rights.

Why don’t we just give corporations the vote and be done with it?

Hell – they already ‘own it’. Who pays to put Politicians in Office?

After you answer that; you should know the answer to the next question, “Who do they represent?”

Corporate donations to politicians should be outright banned for good, along with special interest donations. Allow PEOPLE to donate and that’s it.

Corporations and Special Interest do not have a right to free speech and that’s the way it should stay. “We the people” do however; have those rights.

But this government now is, “For the corporations, by the corporations.”

The funny thing is that in the end – that’s all it will ever serve; the corporations.

interval (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“AT&T is a corporation and should not be entitled to ANY rights.”

Take away what they have now and there’d be no reason to form corps. Might as well chase private businesses away like a torch-bearing mob chasing away a Frankenstein’s monster. Which would mean chasing away jobs. This country’s bipolar relationship with business is maddening. I’m not saying corps should have full constitutional rights, but by god, how long will it be before we completely chase all private enterprise away and form another impotent socialist states? I guess that’s what the left is working toward, huh? Bread lines & Gov. hand-outs instead of personal achievement? Some worker’s paradise.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In case you haven’t noticed, our economy isn’t doing so well either. By your reckoning, that means capitalism is colossal failure too! Or maybe it means that we’re not the only ones that were effected by the American real estate investment scandals. Or just that oversimplifications don’t work every well, but it doesn’t stop you from making them.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Mixed capitalism and socialism. In fact, that is how most developed countries are run these days, including the US. (we have PUBLIC roadways for example). I could outline my suggestions for how things could be run, but I’m not arrogant nor foolish enough to believe that I could create an ideal system myself. What I would do first however, is look at all of the developed countries, including the US, for ideas of what could work better and what wouldn’t.

I’m sure you’ll just say, in spite of your confessed ignorance on the matter, “well socialism doesn’t work, so just forget that!”

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Capitalism DOESN’T work well and has been a failure. At least UNREGULATED capitalism which has morphed into PREDATORY capitalism like we have today.

Communism? I don’t know if that would work well or not, considering that no country in the entire WORLD has been a true communist nation.

Yes, China, Cuba, Russia, etc….. not communist nations…. ELITIST nations where all people are NOT equal and do not get the same things.

ofb2632 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How long will it be until they take all the jobs and move overseas anyways, leaving the US as a third world. This is not all Corporations, this is only the ones that know they are outside the law. When we weakened the regulations, we gave them the opportunity to do anything and get away with it. In the last 12 years, how many CEO’s of any corporation you know is working against the policies of the US have gone to jail? NONE!! But if i steal a candy bar from a store, i serve time. They have stolen alot more then steal one candy bar. They have stolen the homes, cars, education and even lives of the citizens of the United States. They dont even have a guilty conscience about it. When you make 2 billion in profit in one quarter, you are doing it on the lives of others.

interval (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Probably when the country stops making shipping jobs overseas an attractive proposition. You people for all the world sound like you can beat a horse over the head yet still force him to do work AND stay put. At some point the horse is going to say hell with this. OR are we going to pass laws that force businesses to do business only in America & pay 100% taxes on profits? ITS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. You can pass more and more laws that are onerous on business. More and more of them will leave. Those are facts.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Right, it’s our relatively lax laws that makes running a corporation SO hard these days. I guess all of that deregulation that made it easier to ship those jobs out of the country wasn’t enough, so we obviously need MORE! You know, just to keep the corporations from leaving entirely. And the fact that labor is simply cheeper oversees had ABSOLUTELY nothing do with it.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I suppose it depends on your definition of “innovation”. I see the current patent system as more of a hindrance to innovation–though that could be fixed. I think that patents should help those that actually innovate, not those who simply trade idea’s on paper. Also, they should only pertain to the specific scope of the innovation itself. Say you were the first to transmit information using fiber optics. Simply transmitting information on fiber optics is merely an idea that can’t be owned. Actually designing a device that can do so is an innovation. Any one that wants to compete should have the option to either license your design or develop their own, and your patent shouldn’t stop them from doing so. If you really have the best design, then there’s no harm in letting them try and fail. If there is, however, a better design, then you should use your first to market advantage to find it.

Also, there isn’t a simple dichotomy of more or less regulation. I think that we need fewer laws that are simpler and more direct. We need some regulation just to keep things in check, but our regulations, however, have become a byzantine bureaucracy. The mountains of legal weasel wording only benefits lawyers and those that can afford them. Of course, then we would need to prevent others from just mucking it up all over again. I have no simply solution for that, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a goal to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Slightly ignorant analysis, friend. Private enterprise is fleeing from the US because of the uber-capitalist dogma that Americans have been swallowing since Hayek and the Chicago Boys came about; why would something as soulless as a corporation stick around for domestic production when they can bounce to an underdeveloped nation and slash their operating costs? Giving corporations more rights, more tax incentives and other breaks will not serve the interests of the general population because the sacrifices will be much greater than the benefit of the few precarious jobs that will be offered in return.

Last time I checked, the USA couldn’t be considered any sort of paradise.. maybe the old right-wing, neoliberal logic should be reevaluated.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

No shame

Being legislatively created entities, inhuman, immortal, corporations can have neither shame nor embarrassment in pretending a claim to natural rights that can only be possessed by living creatures.

The sooner the artifice of corporation as psychopathic person (fiducially obliged to put share price above all) is dissolved and disintegrated into ‘association of mortals’ the better for mankind and the planet (qv Union Carbide, BP et al).

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:4 No shame

This is not an “all of nothing” proposition. Denying corporations this one “right” does not in anyway deny them of ALL rights, nor does being against those that abuse their rights imply that one is against ALL corporations.

I take it that you’re one of those who think that rights are a ratchet than can only advance upward and that the system would come apart if it were ever to slip back even a notch? The problem with that scheme of course is that it doesn’t allow for any slack to address the injustices caused by those that abuse these rights. To do so would require certain rights to be abridged, and that can not EVER happen if the ratchet is now allowed to drop from time to time. The scales of justice can’t ever balance you if you keep tipping it further in the same direction.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:6 No shame

Then you’re wrong–I never argued that corporations shouldn’t exist. I’m just not blind to the power that such consolidations of resources have. That power can be used for good or evil. Do you think that they should simply be free to do as they please? I don’t. I would say the same applies to governments as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No Clue

Corporations existed before these privileges were granted and they would exist without them. They are in no way necessary for business. Stop deluding yourself into believing the nonsense you spout.

The argument that they will take their business elsewhere is a tired old joke. They already have for the most part and it is because of the increasing level of privilege they have attained that they are even allowed to do it at all. Look at history, it is protectionism that allowed us to become great. We threw it all away for “free trade” which has only served to distance corporations even further from benefiting the public, which was of course their original mandate.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re: No shame

You know, now these corporations bartered and bribed for all of these “rights”, they somehow think that it would be impossible to be in business without them. The truth however would be that we were doing just fine, if not better, without them. Somewhere along the line, the term “private rights” has become the banner for the few to grant themselves privileges over everyone else.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No shame

You know that ‘privilege’ comes from ‘private’+’legislation’ don’t you? ๐Ÿ™‚

Lawyers call them ‘rights’ (short for legislatively granted ‘rights’) – in the hope people confuse them with rights (natural/human/moral).

It’s probably best to call them instruments of injustice to make their iniquity a little more obvious.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 No shame

Sorry Ed, I thought your comment was very good. Perhaps I should have said so.

I was just adding to it – not contradicting. I was just curious as to whether you (or others) knew the etymology of ‘privilege’. I expect you do know it, but just wondered.

Read my comment again as if intoned by someone wholeheartedly agreeing with you, but finding little to add except a trivial note about the terminology and its corruption. ๐Ÿ™‚

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: No shame

It’s more than a little sensationalist and extreme to try and make it sound like we’re arguing against any sort of protections for corporations. Corporations do deserve some protections, but it should NEVER be forgotten that absolutely and positively, the PEOPLE of the US are more important than ANY corporation, and therefore should be the number one priority when it comes to protections.

Since you seem like the type to make a crazy leap from that statement, let me clarify that I do not mean people should be completely protected….I believe there are things the government should not involve itself with. However, what is good for a corporation is not always good for the people, and in those cases, the corporation SHOULD LOSE. Corporations are made up of people, lots of them, so if AT&T the corporation has an opinion on something, it should work to try and convince the people of the company the same, and have them donate to causes. The corporation should not be allowed to donate to any causes as though they are an individual. Example of abuse: Company A wants candidate A elected because candidate A wants to enact a law that allows corporations to outsource jobs so they can save money. This would lead to higher profits, more money to go to candidate A as well as the executives of the company, but it will mean a loss of domestic jobs. Tell me why any one who works for company A would want that… But Company A has a lot more money than the individuals that work there, so if the candidate is looking over campaign donations, of course he’s going to bend over for the bigger donor.

In that case, the company should have no rights to either donate to a campaign, or hide the information that they want a law enacted that would let them fire half of their expensive American workforce for cheaper foreign laborers. Fighting for people does not always mean fighting against corporations, nor does fighting against corporate rights necessarily mean we don’t want private enterprise…

Anonymous Coward says:

Publicly traded company with privacy rights. Cool! I love America and corporations. If you don’t own one to protect your financial rights then you are an idiot. I see a time coming when everyone will be incorporated. Since the Supreme Court now recognizes corporations as individuals with the right to play games with advertising. Individuals now need to become corporations. Own nothing let your corp own it. Then you are allowed to depreciate the goods you use and take massive right-offs to support yourself. Remember Greed is good. Corporations are power. Incorporate yourself. Become an LLC.

CommonSense (profile) says:

If they are publicly traded, doesn’t the public need to know at least some of what’s going on inside? Wouldn’t keeping everything a secret in the company prevent the public from making informed decisions about anything, and isn’t that a blatant loophole that enables these corporations to game the market for any shady intentions they may have???

And that’s without even considering the fact that a single person’s actions typically effect themselves, while a corporation’s actions typically effect hundreds if not thousands or more. Corporations are NOT people, and it should be clear that anyone who would say they are or are deserving of the same rights, has been bought out by one.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“They can’t keep everything secret, unless SEC rules change, and last I heard the Fed was putting pressure on the SEC to enact MORE rules & disclosure, not less.”

This whole case is about the corporation putting up a fight to go in the other direction. Stop making it sound like we’re trying to strip them of what they have, when in reality, we’re simply trying to keep them in check and not give them more rights than they deserve.

Disheartened says:

USA -- Prime Country for Sale

Assets include: World class military can be used to grow and expand empire, Strong International banking system can be used to buy power and cripple economies. Effective media propaganda machine can be used to promote any (criminal) agenda. Pre-Paid system of governance: legislature, executive and judicial branches are always compliant to your needs.

out_of_the_blue says:

@ corporatist Interval

Corporations are a legal fiction devised by The Rich to *evade* liabities and responsibilities of “natural” persons. The “protections” you speak of are super-rights of “limited liability” to shareholders such that no matter what the corporation does — injure or cheat workers, pollution, thuggery, deception, tax evasion, murder — that they *profit* from, their liability is limited to mere money.

The excuse for corporations is to pool money to build. That’s long since been outdated: the stock market is nothing but a casino manipulated by big money, and if pooling money is needed, it doesn’t have to be done by a monopoly round Wall Street.

It’s corporations that don’t “do” business. They’re merely “legalized” organized crime. Without the checks of civilized persons on their actions, they’d be nothing but literal pirates.

interval (profile) says:

Re: @ corporatist Interval

And this is the attitude that will make paupers of us all. I personally know many business people. I don’t of ANY of them that would fit the description you state. ALL are hard working, honest, and upstanding people. I’ve met ONE man in my professional career who would fit that characterization, and my company stopped doing business with him not long after his activities came to light.

Now, without mis-characterizing what I’ve said (I AM NOT for a wild-west, no rules mentality) I’m curious to hear your idea of what should replace corps and businesses here; how should people make a living in the united states, your vision?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: @ corporatist Interval

So you are saying that you agree that corporations should be treated like people? That they should have all the same rights, privileges and protections of a person without the personal responsibility? Why are you so outspoken against people trying to make corporations responsible, once more? In fact, more laws really AREN’T needed, what is needed is more stringent enforcement of the laws in place and a repeal of the laws that have continued to give corporations more and more power. No, not all corporations are ‘bad,’ but you are arguing that all are good based upon the few /people/ you know who work in them. Somehow you are coming off as severely myopic.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 @ corporatist Interval

Interval, they are NOT mis-characterizing at all. They are using your own statements against you. When it is YOUR OWN STATEMENTS that people are using? There can be no ‘mis-characterization’.

There can be manipulation of statements, but if your ENTIRE STATEMENTS are parsed earlier in the posting…….. OOPS! You just lost your standing leg and up to your chest as well.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: @ corporatist Interval

The problem is that your lumping corporations with ALL businesses. So far, your the only one who keeps doing so. I’m not against businesses in general–it’s just that the bigger they get the more restrictions they should have simply due the amount of damage that they can do. Corporations are simply the biggest businesses.

interval (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: @ corporatist Interval

I am doing no such thing. Corps are an important legal entity. Without them there would be little reason for companies to be as large as they are, and without that they’d not be able to compete with companies based countries that allow them. You some how disallow corps, you shoot your own country in the foot. And I reject the notion that all the worlds problems are because of corps.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 @ corporatist Interval

I was talking about lines like this, “I’m curious to hear your idea of what should replace corps and businesses here”. No one said that businesses should be replaced, but you “lumped” them into the argument anyway. I however never made the oversimplification that “all the worlds problems are because of corps” either. Some are though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: @ corporatist Interval

Letting corporations run free has ruined us. I think you have a problem with reality or maybe your just willfully ignorant to the actual problems we face.

One good alternate suggestion to corporations is co-ops. This makes a lot more sense as they are far more democratic therefore inherently more representative. The problem is this may lead to business decisions like not outsourcing and trying to achieve higher quality. The repercussions of job satisfaction and increased quality of life would be horrendous!

No I think we should stay inside the box and stick with corporations, because it would be just too hard to come up with better alternatives.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Size

> No company should be able to be so large that
> it has an influence outside its state of origin.

According to the prevailing political thought and legal justification for most of what Congress does, everything, including a person’s mere existence, affects interstate commerce.

You’re going to have a hard time running a business that’s any bigger than a lemonade stand in your front yard that doesn’t have an influence across state lines.

But on a broader point, what right do you have to tell me how much money I can make off my own hard work? If I devise a product or service that everyone wants, it’s my right to exploit the value of my labor and ingenuity for whatever the market will bear.

I honestly have no idea how this Marxist notion that everyone should be equally mediocre and/or miserable came to have such a foothold on the American psyche. Are they teaching it in the schools these days or something?

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Size

OK, I was wrong…you’re also lumping corporations with ALL businesses. There’s a difference between the owners that profit from their labors and those that solely profit from the work of others. Being leery of corporate corruption doesn’t make one a Marxist any more than being leery of government corruption makes one an anarchist.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Size

Ed C., I agree totally. Most of these corporations are NOT profiting on their own labors, but on the labors of the people working for the company, who are underpaid/overworked/etc. etc. etc.

How do we keep that from happening, those last things? With STRICT AND STERN regulation, including a strong/HIGH minimum wage that people can live on and……. (shivers)….. PRICE CONTROLS IN SOME CASES!

Whitehat (profile) says:

Preamble

Maybe I just missed it…does ANYONE see companies mentioned? I only see “people” mentioned in the Preamble to the Constitution:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

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