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Supreme Court Takes On Corporate Privacy Case With AT&T

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is getting involved in an unusual freedom of information dispute over whether corporations may assert personal privacy interests to prevent the government from releasing documents about them.

The court on Tuesday agreed to a request from the Obama administration to take up a case involving claims made by telecommunications giant AT&T to keep secret the information gathered by the Federal Communications Commission during an investigation.

The administration wants the high court to rule that corporations may not claim a personal privacy exception contained in the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The exception may be used only by individuals, the administration said in a brief signed by Elena Kagan, the newest justice who served in the Justice Department until last month.

Kagan will not take part in the case, which will be argued early next year.

AT&T wants the FCC to keep secret all the information it gathered from the company during an investigation into its participation in the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries get Internet access.

The FCC had released some of the information under an open records request, but withheld some, citing FOIA exemptions that cover trade secrets and humans' right to privacy.

A federal appeals court sided with AT&T.

COMPTEL, a trade group representing some AT&T competitors, filed the FOIA request that led to the court ruling. The trade association and several groups that support transparency in government backed the administration's plea to the court to hear the case.

The case is FCC v. AT&T, 09-1279.

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