On March 1, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision arising from the E-rate program and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In 2004, AT&T voluntarily came forward and reported to the FCC that they may have overcharged the E-rate program for telecommunications equipment and services delivered to Connecticut applicants. Without admitting guilt, AT&T paid $500,000 to resolve the allegations.
In 2005, CompTel sought documents from the FCC investigation by filing a FOIA request. FOIA requires federal agencies to release documents unless the request qualifies for one of a set number of exemptions. AT&T objected to the information being released saying that the information gathered during the investigation was protected as it fell under the “personal privacy” exemption. This exemption would prohibit the disclosure of records that “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” AT&T argued that the “personal privacy” exemption applied to AT&T, as corporations are considered legal “persons” in the U.S.
The High Court’s unanimous 8-0 decision found that AT&T did not qualify for the “personal privacy” exemption. Chief Justice Roberts authored the opinion stating that “The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations,” adding that “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.” Justice Kagan worked on the dispute while at the Justice Department and thus was recused from the decision.