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Supreme Court Rules On Corporate Privacy 408

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the dirty-laundry-must-air-dry dept.
heptapod writes "The Supreme Court unanimously decided (PDF) Monday that AT&T can't keep embarrassing corporate information that it submits to the government out of public view; 'personal privacy' rights do not apply to corporations. 'We trust that AT&T will not take it personally,' concluded the ruling."
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Supreme Court Rules On Corporate Privacy

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  • by v1 (525388) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:13AM (#35356908) Homepage Journal

    we still have quite a few other personal rights that have been given to corporations that shouldn't have

    • we still have quite a few other personal rights that have been given to corporations that shouldn't have

      I'll be glad when this fad goes away. The whole reason for corporate personhood is to protect the rights of the people involved with the corporation. If the US dismantled the corporate personhood machinery, it would have to be replaced with something else that does pretty much the same thing. Else groups of people would have their rights trampled. It's not rocket science.

      Also, note that even moderately controversial decisions (such as the frequently reviled Citizens United v. FEC case) are decided by nar

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Yes, but without a constitutional amendment those new rights could be taken away without much trouble. As it is we need to pass a constitutional amendment declaring corporations to not be people. Which is a lot harder.

      • by Utini420 (444935) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:46AM (#35357268)

        Wouldn't those people's rights be protected by, ya know, being people?

        • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:59AM (#35357432)

          Wouldn't those people's rights be protected by, ya know, being people?

          No. Even in the US that isn't true. If your rights have been violated by law or action, you still have to act to redress your grievance, either in the courts or through communication. What you don't get is that procedures frequently have to be implemented in order for the right to be properly honored.

          For example, the Miranda warning is a judicially mandated action that was deemed necessary so that people who were arrested would aware of their rights. It doesn't follow naturally from the Constitution and didn't come about until about 45 years ago.

          Similarly, corporate personhood is a legal invention. It came about precisely because the courts of the time deemed it necessary in order to honor the rights of the people making up the corporation.

          • by Utini420 (444935)

            Wouldn't those people's rights be protected by, ya know, being people?

            No. Even in the US that isn't true. If your rights have been violated by law or action, you still have to act to redress your grievance, either in the courts or through communication. What you don't get is that procedures frequently have to be implemented in order for the right to be properly honored. For example, the Miranda warning is a judicially mandated action that was deemed necessary so that people who were arrested would aware of their rights. It doesn't follow naturally from the Constitution and didn't come about until about 45 years ago. Similarly, corporate personhood is a legal invention. It came about precisely because the courts of the time deemed it necessary in order to honor the rights of the people making up the corporation.

            If you'll hang in there with me, I'm genuinely curious and trying to step outside my normal "corporations = fuck 'em" assumption set. Your angle on this issue is quite different from what I'm used to seeing. What rights of the people in the corporation are we talking about, and how might they be violated? I'm trying to give your position the benefit of the doubt, but being all vague like this I'm not inclined to assume it's the rights of lowly cubicle drones but rather the rights of executives and, well,

            • by mrvan (973822) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:08PM (#35358414)

              Corporate personhood is not invented to protect 'natural', 'constitutional' or 'legal' rights of persons.

              For one thing, the concept originates from before the US constitution. It at least dates back to the Dutch East Indies company (1608 IIRC). Separating investment from liability (other than the invested sum) is a means to allow a multitude of people to invest in a company without the risk of being taken down in a bankruptcy (for more than their invested sum). It is a pure tradeoff between the the security of the investors and the rights of creditors and has nothing to do with enforcement of pre-existing rights.

              • by 0111 1110 (518466)

                Good point. Excellent post. But I question whether this original 1608 form of corporation truly required the concept of personhood in order to exist. Perhaps a government that believes the trade off you speak of is one that is beneficial to society could simply grant limited liability against potential creditors directly to investors and leave it at that without invoking the whole corporation-as-person concept. The government could even just grant the individual investors a certain level of immunity from cr

              • by brunes69 (86786)

                The reason for corporate person hood is so that if you are working at your $5 / hour minimum wage job at McDonalds and serve someone coffee and they burn their face off, they don't sue YOU for negligence.

                Without corporate person-hood there would be no way for anyone to sue corporations in civil suits.

                • by pclminion (145572)

                  I don't think it has to do with the employees, it has to do with the investors. If I own stock in McDonald's I don't want to be personally sued when some idiot serves scalding coffee and burns someone. If I could be held to that sort of liability then I'd never bother to invest in anything. I'm willing to take financials risks, not legal risks.

                  Imagine you have a company 401(k) plan which invests in a mutual fund, and within that mutual fund is a company that is discovered to be committing human rights viola

                • by 0111 1110 (518466)

                  The reason for corporate person hood is so that if you are working at your $5 / hour minimum wage job at McDonalds and serve someone coffee and they burn their face off, they don't sue YOU for negligence.

                  They wouldn't do that in the first place because someone working at McDonalds wouldn't have any real money. No one should be able to sue someone (and win) when they spill hot coffee on their face anyway. Hot coffee is what they ordered. This sort of evasion of personal responsibility is so pathetic and part of the reason why corporate personhood itself is such a bad idea. People have to take responsibility for their own actions.

                  On the other hand if you are waiting tables and spill hot coffee on someone's fa

              • by jimrthy (893116) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:48PM (#35359798) Homepage Journal
                Ah, yes. Good ol' Dutch East Indies. We really should have learned from their monstrous example, realized corporate personhood is one of the single worst ideas ever, and moved back to sanity.
                • by jwhitener (198343)

                  I not sure how you read what mrvan wrote and decided that corporate personhood is a bad idea.

                  "It is a pure tradeoff between the the security of the investors and the rights of creditors and has nothing to do with enforcement of pre-existing rights."

                  The personhood part of a corporation basically sets up a fake 'fall guy' so that shareholders and investors aren't sued into oblivion if the corporation goes bankrupt. No one would become a shareholder/investor if the risk wasn't just "lose the money you investe

      • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @12:04PM (#35357492) Homepage

        There's a big difference between having some form of legal entity and personhood. The one big thing that must be brought back is actual enforcement of the requirement that a corporation be in the public interest. Breaking the law is never in the public interest, so a corporation that does so is dissolved.

        • Breaking the law is never in the public interest, so a corporation that does so is dissolved

          Death penalty? I guess only in Texas :-)

          • by sjames (1099)

            Not necessarily, but that's the stick. Then offer the corporation a one time only deal that provides for full restitution and actually discourages future crime rather than effectively just applying a 10% tax to it like current fines do. Include purging the executives that allowed the crime to take place as one of many conditions. Take the deal without complaint or be dissolved.

            At some point, perhaps when the corporation has committed 3 felonies, the dissolution becomes mandatory. Should that happen, first d

        • by khallow (566160)

          There's a big difference between having some form of legal entity and personhood. The one big thing that must be brought back is actual enforcement of the requirement that a corporation be in the public interest. Breaking the law is never in the public interest, so a corporation that does so is dissolved.

          My view is that people aren't held to this ridiculous standard because it would be both impossible and harmful, so on similar grounds of practicality and ethics, corporations shouldn't be either.

          Consider driver's licenses. If I'm caught speeding slightly, my license isn't dissolved. Often the punishment isn't significant either, a "slap on the wrist" as someone else in the thread would put it.

          If for some reason, we actually did enforce a stupidly rigorous law for drivers like you outline above for cor

          • by sjames (1099)

            If you speed enough, your license most certainly is dissolved. If you commit more serious crimes you go to jail. That means loss of income and freedom. If you commit 3 felonies you will run afoul of 3 strikes laws (but corporations seem to be exempt).

            It's not all that unusual to use the threat of a severe punishment to encourage acceptance of a more creative solution either. DUI offenders are routinely offered a choice between DUI school or loss of license.

            If you were a corporation, you could get caught spe

        • When "the public" are shareholders in the corporation, then sometimes public interest is served by corporations breaking laws. Especially when they gain huge profits doing so!
  • by commodore6502 (1981532) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:14AM (#35356924)

    About frakking time. Corporations should have no more access to human rights than a tree or rock or building. If an entity can not vote, then it should not have rights.

    Privileges like trademarks and advertising? Sure. But such privileges should be strictly regulated and limited (unlike individual speech rights which should be unlimited).

    • If an entity can not vote

      Shhh don't give them ideas!

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:27AM (#35357078)

      This is about interpreting the FOIA, not Constitutional rights, so the "rights" involved are whatever Congress wanted to specify in the law, which could have included things relating to corporations if Congress chose to.

      Congress wrote in the FOIA that people can generally request government records, and the government must respond to such requests, except in a list of specific exceptions where the agency is allowed to withhold them. If Congress had wanted to, they could have included "the request would reveal sensitive information about a corporation" in the list. This case just holds that Congress did not in fact include such an exception, implicitly or otherwise.

      • by powerlord (28156)

        If Congress had wanted to, they could have included "the request would reveal sensitive information about a corporation" in the list. This case just holds that Congress did not in fact include such an exception, implicitly or otherwise.

        Don't worry. I'm sure a new revision of the FOIA is being hammered out by the Corp lobbyists for the Congress Critters to pass in the next session.

    • by zill (1690130) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:39AM (#35357204)

      If an entity can not vote, then it should not have rights.

      Of course corporations can vote. They just use the special ballot that lists Benjamin Franklin as a candidate every election.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      Corporations should have no more access to human rights than a tree or rock or building.

      Unlike trees or rocks or buildings, corporations are made up of people. And those people have rights. Hence, there are things you cannot do to corporations without violating the rights of the people who comprise that corporation. Corporate personhood is merely a legal invention for enabling efficiently those rights that already exist.

    • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:54AM (#35357364) Homepage

      If an entity can not vote, then it should not have rights.

      So non-citizens residing the US have no rights? Or children?

      Also, have you considered the full implications of that stance? Could the US, for example, censor Busboy Productions, Inc. on the grounds it has no first ammendment rights? Could they sieze Twitter's computer servers without a warrant on the grounds it has no fourth ammendment rights? Can they tap your wokplace phone without a warrant because your employer has no expectation of privacy?

    • About frakking time. Corporations should have no more access to human rights than a tree or rock or building. If an entity can not vote, then it should not have rights.

      More importantly, if a corporation can't be put in jail for wrongdoing, it shouldn't have rights.

    • Corporations can lobby politicians, who ignore commoners. Money, power, fame are the only ways to get noticed by politicians. Corporations have all three.
      And they really donate when the politicians are running for office.

    • Amen. I don't even think corporations should have free speech rights. All the shareholders and employees already possess that right themselves. I think it is perfectly reasonable to create regulations if needed on corporate speech, especially political donations by the corporations as opposed to the individual shareholders. If a corporation thinks it needs to spend money lobbying, it can distribute the allocated money to shareholders with a request that they donate it to whatever politician will wax their l
  • Even with the deregulation, competitors still have to use AT&T copper to run their services. It's not like they're going anywhere.
    • Verizon does not need to use AT&T copper any more than AT&T needs to use Verizon's copper. Verizon is one of the "Baby Bells" (actually it is the merger of several of the "Baby Bells"), so is AT&T. The AT&T that exists today is not the company that was left after the various local phone companies were split off into "Baby Bells". AT&T is now actually one of those "Baby Bells" (SBC) that bought what was left of AT&T when its post breakup business plan met the changes in communication
  • I am sure if you make some "donations", a bill will quickly be passed to change this ruling. I think bill's name will be the "Freedom Defense".
    • Care to check out #2 on the list [opensecrets.org] of top political donors since 1989?
      • Re:Don't Worry AT&T (Score:4, Informative)

        by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @12:05PM (#35357498) Homepage Journal

        I believe that is direct contributions, not total political expenditures.

        Take the Koch brothers recent activity in Wisconsin. They donated $43,500 to Governer Walker's election campaing. But, they also donated $1M to the Republican Goveners association (which spent over $2M in Wisconsin) and funded another $2+ million in political activity in Wisconsin through their Americans for Prosperity PAC.

        So if you look at the Koch's contribution to Walker, it doesn't seem all that significant. But if you look at their spending, it's tremendous.

        True, that example is at the state level and the list you linked to is at the federal level. But I would really be surprised to find that that chart includes all investments besides direct contributions by all PAC and subsidiaries and their PACs by all of the groups listed.

        -Rick

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Nope it will be a rider in the "telecommunications terrorism prevention act."

      I'm NOT joking. They will pull this shit.

  • OK (Score:4, Insightful)

    by killmenow (184444) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:27AM (#35357080)
    First off: "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally"

    Hahahaha! That's like a big middle finger stuck right into the ruling. Nice!

    Now that I got that out of my system...the whole corporate personhood thing is such a farce anyway. A corporation is nothing but a group of people. It could be one person or 100,000 people. But if you remove all the people from the corporation, can it make a decision? Can it sign a piece of paper? Can it continue to function at all? NO.

    What's worse: the idea that people do things "on behalf" of corporations. Such as the fallacy that a corporation is to blame and not the person who does the wrong thing and rationalizes "I'm not a sociopath because I decided to pollute that river with toxic waste then obstruct justice during the investigation by shredding all those documents on behalf of the corporation."

    Corporations don't commit crimes. People do. Maybe it's "on behalf of" the corporation. But it's always a person doing the deed.

    Again, a corporation is its people. It's not its own person.
    • by Americano (920576)

      Enron got a lot of press. You don't hear as much about the thousands of other lawsuits that are wending their way through the courts involving corporations, most of which don't involve deliberate, "malice aforethought" crimes - many of them involve negligence, or downright accidental events.

      SO... when you slip and fall at Wal-Mart because there was no "wet floor" sign up, will you take the individual janitor and the cashier to court to cover your medical bills? Good luck collecting enough money to even co

  • by terraformer (617565) <tpb@pervici.com> on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:31AM (#35357124) Journal

    Thankfully, this dialing back corporate personhood and granting personal rights to corporations has long been overdue. Odd case to have it happen in, as the outcome is not clearly positive in all cases, but the overall result for the law in general is a positive one.

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:40AM (#35357220)

    If corporations were individuals they would be sociopaths as this 2003 Canadian documentary [wikipedia.org] endeavors to show. In D&D they would be considered either lawful evil or chaotic evil (depending on the corporation). They are narrowly selfish and greedy to such an extent that as an individual they would almost certainly be criminals. Profit trumps every other concern without exception. So corporations are an evil institution, but are they a necessary evil? The price we pay for economic prosperity. Perhaps, but that doesn't mean we have to give them any more power than necessary to get what we (as a society) want from them (inexpensive, innovative, useful products).

    I consider myself a Libertarian, but I would argue that even in a free society corporations-as-individuals should be prohibited. It simply does not make sense to grant them the same rights as an individual not only because they clearly are a group of individuals, but because corporations need to have limitations on their power and on their predictably ruthlessly selfish/evil behavior. Corporations are the only institutions that can even remotely compete with governments in terms of power and abuse of power and they should be treated warily because of this.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:41AM (#35357226)

    Folks here are already saying things about this ruling diminishing the "person" aspect of corporations. The ruling doesn't really do that. Instead, it rests on a question of statutory construction. In particular, the court says that "personal privacy", a phrase used in FOIA, does not merely mean the privacy of a person, as AT&T argued, but instead refers to particular elements of privacy that only carry meaning when you're talking about an actual human being.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      That was more or less my thought on this. This didn't seem to be so much a rolling back of the rights as a refusal to extend more rights to corporations. I don't really recall previously corporations being allowed to have personal privacy, and in fact such a notion would leave regulatory agencies in a tough place because typically 5th amendment protections would also apply as well as other places where privacy is conveyed in the constitution.

  • by zoomshorts (137587) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:47AM (#35357288)

    Sadly, most elected officials do not realize, that we the People, ALLOW these businesses to do business in our country.
    Just like they think they lead us, when the words lead, leader and leadership, do not exist in the U.S. Constitution.

    The tail shall not wag the dog. End of story. Get out and vote against these idiots! It is your DUTY as an informed
    electorate.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Oh, they know this perfectly well, but for $25000 in campaign contributions they can conveniently forget it.

  • Outraged (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:52AM (#35357340) Homepage Journal

    Apparently, these eight supreme court justices need to be taught a lesson.

    Don't they know that the original intent of the framers of the Constitution was that corporations are persons, except when it comes to paying taxes? Also, union members are not persons.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by JSBiff (87824)

      Should people working together as a group have less rights than those same people if they are working on their own?

      • Re:Outraged (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Tom (822) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @12:05PM (#35357508) Homepage Journal

        The people certainly not.

        But why does the group need extra rights for itself, if all the people within it already have them?

      • by maxume (22995)

        Corporations generally give those people the right to participate in the activities of the corporation without being fully responsible for those activities, and people can work together without forming a corporation, so what's your point?

      • by PPH (736903)

        Should people working together as a group have less rights than those same people if they are working on their own?

        As a corporation, yes. If you want to retain your entire set of rights, form a partnership.

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