As the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a major case over whether Americans' personal privacy rights should be extended to corporations, Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-19) has introduced legislation to ensure that corporate activities are not shrouded in secrecy and potentially immune from basic oversight. This month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, a case that could revoke public access to documents related to investigations of corporate wrongdoing currently protected by the Freedom of Information Act.
"The Personal Privacy Clarification Act will ensure Americans are not forbidden from accessing information related to federal investigations like those into the BP gulf oil spill, the devastating Madoff Ponzi scheme, or the tragic deaths of 29 Americans in the Massey coal mine," said Congressman Ted Deutch. "Shutting out the American people by extending privacy rights to corporate entities limits transparency and undermines accountability in our democracy. We have seen what happens when agencies get too cozy with the industries they oversee, and turn a blind eye to corruption, abuse, and even safety violations. Our citizens must be able to ensure their elected government is properly enforcing the rule of law."
He added, "As we saw in the Citizens United decision, transforming entities incorporated for the purpose of profit-making into individuals with limitless political rights has left Americans in the dark while special interests freely pour money into campaigns that favor their industry. In fact, special interest donations to campaigns soared to new heights during the 2010 electoral cycle. Transparency has long been a shared cause of Republicans and Democrats, from Teddy Roosevelt's efforts to prevent corporate electioneering to Lyndon Johnson's historic signing of the Freedom of Information Act. It is my hope that I can work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the transparency so integral to the function of our democracy."
The personal privacy exemption in the Freedom of Information Act is widely accepted as a protection of individuals' sensitive data, like medical records or financial statements. This exemption was never intended to apply to inanimate entities, such as corporations. While corporations do have an interest in protecting trade secrets, FOIA already exempts them from disclosing this type of information. If the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to extend personal privacy rights to corporations is upheld by the Supreme Court, Americans would lose access to information acquired in government investigations of corporate wrongdoing. Congressman Deutch's bill, the Personal Privacy Clarification Act, makes clear that the personal privacy exemption in the Freedom of Information Act is explicitly limited to individuals and not corporate entities.