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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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  • OK (Score:4, Insightful)

    by killmenow (184444) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:27AM (#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 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:40AM (#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 @10:41AM (#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 khallow (566160) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:41AM (#35357230)

    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 narrow majorities (5-4 decision in that case) while obvious stretches of corporate personhood are decided by 9-0 rejections. This isn't an area that is careening out of control.

  • by Utini420 (444935) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:46AM (#35357268)

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

  • Re:OK (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zill (1690130) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:47AM (#35357280)
    A single human cell cannot function without the rest of the body.

    A single employee can function without the rest of the corporation.
  • by zoomshorts (137587) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:47AM (#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 khallow (566160) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:48AM (#35357292)

    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.

  • Outraged (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:52AM (#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.

  • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:54AM (#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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:57AM (#35357410)

    Has a company ever been put in prison?

  • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @10:59AM (#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 sanosuke001 (640243) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:00AM (#35357438)
    No, it would be much easier as we would have to charge individuals with crimes and therefore, individuals in the company would have real personal consequences for their actions instead of having the company take the fall. It also wouldn't have to be a single person; a group of people in collusion would be just as effective.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:00AM (#35357444)

    Our current legal system has laws that differentially govern the activities of organizations and individuals, so no - organizations could still be held legally accountable for their actions. It could adjust to have more targeted at organizational activities if really necessary. It's not like you can extract conceptually different legal remedies from criminal vs civil prosecution of a corporation currently; no corporation is doing jail time.

    Besides, if such a change occurred and it led to more prosecution of individuals for activities undertaken by an entire organization, I'm not convinced that would be a bad direction.

  • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:04AM (#35357478) Homepage

    The problem is then that you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person's involvement with each element of the crime. Part of the reason we tend to prosecute the corporation as a whole is that it's often not easy to pin the whole crime on any specific person given the distributed nature of responsibility in most large corporations.

  • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:04AM (#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.

  • Re:Outraged (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:05AM (#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?

  • Re:WRONG (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:07AM (#35357522) Homepage Journal

    I personaly don't see why people working together should have less rights than people working alone.

    They don't. The people working at a corporation are nowhere even the subject of the discussion. The rights at stake are additional rights given to the corporation.

    I personally don't see why people working together should have more rights than people working alone.

  • by Baki (72515) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:10AM (#35357540)

    Many countries make a distinction between natural persons (i.e. humans) and a legal person (entities, corporations). I have to assume that there must be some distiction between the two in the US too, though it is smaller than elsewhere. If not, a corporation being a natural person would have a nationality, and if it is a US nationality, it would have the right to vote in elections, which is not the case.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:12AM (#35357566) Homepage

    Sure they can. For instance, if corporations are property, thanks to asset forfeiture [wikipedia.org] it's possible for the government to charge property with a crime and confiscate it.

    Or alternately, assume they are neither property nor persons. That means that Congress can pass whatever laws about corporations they like (since they nearly always fall under interstate commerce), and the state where the corporation is incorporated can also exercise unchecked control. Either of them could pass a law that states something like "Corporations who commit criminal offenses will be tried as criminal defendants."

    One could argue whether either of those is a good or bad thing, but it's hardly a situation where they can't be charged with a crime.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:13AM (#35357570)

    Which typically amounts to a slap on the wrist.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:16AM (#35357614) Homepage

    Problem is, "the public" is not what you think it is. that does not mean you or me but "major shareholders" which is the top 1% of the population. Liability to you or me, even if we hold 1,000 shares is nothing. liability to the guy that owns 20% is there.

    the public was sold a bag of goods that was rigged from the start to protect the riches of the top 1% and NOT that of the public.

  • by Mister Whirly (964219) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:19AM (#35357656) Homepage
    You have summed up the problem pretty effectively. All the execs have to do is pass the buck and they know they can basically get away with whatever they want. And if they are caught, the harshest penalty is monetary - not even personal fines, but rather the corporation. It is like legally removing your conscience.
  • by MattSausage (940218) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:22AM (#35357688)
    Just out of curiosity, what corporation has been held liable for any 'crime' prosecuted in a criminal court. I'm willing to believe it has happened, but I postulate that it is so rare for this to happen that the corporate personhood clause should go away.

    How does giving a corporation personal rights and freedoms somehow protect the people within that corporation? Are their personal rights not protected by the same constitutional provisions that protects those of us NOT in a Corporation? By what moral imperative do their rights get 'protected' twice while mine may only be 'protected' once?

    For example: Citizens United. Corporations have a right to free speech to support any candidate they so choose. Tell me, before this ruling did the actual human beings within this corporation not actually have those rights? Were they somehow barred from voting or donating their money? I fail to see how granting personhood to any corporation does anything but give members of that corporation extra protections under the constitution the rest of us do not have.
  • by dlenmn (145080) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:23AM (#35357698) Homepage

    When a company is fined, who pays the price? For public companies (most of the companies we care about), the answer is basically shareholders -- almost all of whom had no part in the wrongdoing. So the main effect is that some people in the company do something wrong, then all shareholders get fined. I think more fines should be leveled on the people who actually did the wrongdoing (although fining the company is still somewhat useful as it does provide an incentive not to break the law -- it's just that the burden of the fine is mostly misplaced).

  • by Fieryphoenix (1161565) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:40AM (#35358000)
    Hitting the shareholders' pocketbooks is what should motivate them to keep douchebags out of leadership positions in the company.
  • by fishexe (168879) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @11:47AM (#35358102) Homepage

    When a company is fined, who pays the price? For public companies (most of the companies we care about), the answer is basically shareholders -- almost all of whom had no part in the wrongdoing.

    False. Their part in the wrongdoing was voting for the board that hired the people (...that hired the people...[repeat as necessary]) that did the wrongdoing. Do you think just because your ownership is in the form of stock, that you have no responsibility to even investigate whether the people generating your dividends are trustworthy enough not to lie, cheat, steal, maim or kill?

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @12:20PM (#35358596)

    The problem with that is that the shares are filtered though so many layers of mutual funds and derivatives and hedge funds and private equity and TLAs and who knows what else that the majority of the shareholders don't even realize that they even are shareholders at all!

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @12:53PM (#35359064) Homepage Journal

    A simple middle ground would be to dissolve more corporations.

    Well, don't be quite so hasty!!

    Remember, in the US, most business and employers are not the huge faceless corporations everyone is going on about...they are small businesses.

    Without incorporation, it would be virtually impossible (or stupid at the very least) for a person or couple of people to try to start their own business. They need that corporate protection so that they can take some risk, but not risk losing everything they own personally (house, cars, kids college fund, life savings) for something even slightly going wrong in their business. Heck, even if they're not even at fault, in today's litigious society...you can get lawsuits thrown at you for nothing...and a person trying to start a new business would get killed automatically for life over something potentially meaningless.

    And also...especially for the small business person, or one person contractor...you NEED the benefits incorporating gives you, the tax breaks. It is about the ONLY way for a person to keep his hard earned wages.

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