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Home > SPJ News > SPJ supports FCC fight against public access limitations

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SPJ supports FCC fight against public access limitations


11/19/2010


For Immediate Release:

Contacts:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012, hlimor@spj.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, ascott@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief supporting the Federal Communications Commission’s fight for full disclosure of AT&T documents. Without the disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act will be further limited.

In the case FCC v. AT&T, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether a corporation can assert a personal privacy right under Exemption 7(c) of the Freedom of Information Act as grounds for withholding documents from the public. The provision exempts document disclosures in law enforcement records that would constitute an invasion of “personal privacy.”

CompTel, a trade association for communications service providers, filed a public records request with the FCC in 2005, seeking documents related to an FCC probe into whether AT&T had overcharged the agency for work on a technology education project. AT&T fought the request, arguing that releasing the documents violated Exemption 7(c) of the Act.

The FCC rejected AT&T’s argument and agreed to release the documents, finding that a corporation has no “personal privacy” as a matter of law. In September 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the FCC disclosure order and ruled that AT&T, a corporation, has a personal privacy right under the exemption.

“This appeals court decision flies in the face of a long line of precedent,” SPJ President Hagit Limor said. “This exemption has never been applied to business conduct, only to protect individuals' intimate, personal information. If upheld, corporations across the country would gain a new weapon to deny public records and to hinder reporters’ abilities to investigate not only corporate activities but also to monitor the federal regulators who police those corporations.”

The brief, authored by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argues that the exemption has never been interpreted as extending rights to corporations and should be applied solely to individuals to protect personal details unrelated to business conduct. The brief also argues that giving corporations new rights under the exemption would impede journalists’ ability to act as watchdogs.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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