Supreme Court Sinks Navy’s Stonewalling

The Supreme Court agreed Monday that a community activist could get copies of Navy maps showing the damage expected from an explosion at an ammunition dump in Washington. The Navy had opposed the activist’s Freedom of Information Act request for the maps.

The base at Naval Magazine Indian Island in Puget Sound is the Navy’s main repository for munitions on the West Coast. It stores weapons, ammunition and explosives. Community activist Glen Milner claimed to be concerned about the safety of residents at nearby Port Townsend in western Washington when he requested copies of the maps and data on the explosives.

Although no major explosion has occurred at the Navy base, the maps project the extent of damage if one took place. The Navy uses them to determine how far storage units should be spaced from one another to avoid a chain reaction if one of them detonates.

Navy officials said the maps were exempt from disclosure under the “personnel rules and practices” exception in the Freedom of Information Act. The exception protects the privacy of government employees. In Milner’s case, the Navy sought to protect the privacy of its personnel who work at the ammunition dump.


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Ding Dong, The Concept of Corporate Personal Privacy is Dead!

Elena Kagan and John Roberts in front of Supre...

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that corporations may not claim a “personal privacy” exemption when the U.S. government wants to release files involving them under the Freedom of Information Act.

The high court reversed that in an 8-0 decision. The new ninth justice, Elena Kagan, a former U.S. solicitor general, did not participate.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized that, ” ‘Personal’ ordinarily refers to individuals. We do not usually speak of personal characteristics, personal effects, personal correspondence, personal influence or personal tragedy as referring to corporations or other artificial entities.”

The chief justice acknowledged that “adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns but not always” and cited as examples “corn” and “corny,” and “crank” and “cranky.”

More broadly, Roberts said that when it comes to the word “personal,” little support exists, even in the law, for the notion that it refers to corporations.

He closed the decision against the telecommunications giant with a bit of levity: “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”

We’ll keep the commentary coming as it emerges, as this is a major FOIA development.

More coverage here and here.



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AT&T, Corporate Privacy and Personhood: The Best Thing I Have Read on the Subject…

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This piece in Slate gets it about right:

AT&T slips into the Supreme Court chamber this morning, moments before arguments are set to start. He feels slightly affronted that nobody seems to notice him. (AT&T is a very emotional guy.) AT&T is handsome in the obvious way. (He has the Nights and Weekends plan). After these same justices ruled almost a year ago to the day that he had the same political-speech rights as human people, he’s feeling a lot more corporeal than he used to. If things go his way today, in the coming years he will enjoy not only free speech and personal privacy rights but the right to bear arms as well.


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OK, so Davis is quoted in the story…

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The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to use a case involving AT&T Inc. to consider whether a corporation can challenge the release of government documents as an infringement of the company’s privacy rights.

The justices today said they will hear the Obama administration’s appeal of a ruling that said corporations can invoke a provision in a federal document-disclosure law that protects against invasions of “personal privacy.”

The government says the U.S. appeals court ruling upset the decades-old understanding of the Freedom of Information Act, under which hundreds of thousands of requests are filed every year.

The ruling “likely also will result in the withholding of agency records to which the public should have access, including records documenting corporate malfeasance,” the administration argued in a brief filed by then-Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

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