The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 551-559, protects a corporation’s interest in “personal privacy.” In September of 2009, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of AT&T and against the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) in finding that FOIA’s law enforcement exemption protects a corporation’s interest in “personal privacy.” AT&T Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 582 F.3d 490 (2009). The FCC has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case on January 19, 2011. See Court Weighs Whether Corporations Have Personal Privacy Rights, New York Times, January 19, 2011.

FOIA exempts from mandatory disclosure records collected for law enforcement purposes to the extent disclosure “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C). FOIA does not define personal, but does define person as “an individual, partnership, corporation, association, or public or private organization other than an agency.” 5 U.S.C. § 551(2).

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The FCC released the National Broadband Plan today, setting out ambitious goals for how the federal government conducts business in cyberspace. The Plan targets several concrete goals, including

  • 100 million homes with affordable access to 100 megabit per second internet access.
  • At least one institutional (e.g., hospital or university) connection at one gigabit per second in every community.

Closer to open local government’s home, the Plan’s “Civic Engagement” chapter may raise the bar for municipalities in providing access to records and officials. Although the Plan is directed to the federal government, citizens are likely to expect the same level of service from all government agencies, including their local city hall.

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The FCC’s Government Operations Director Eugene Huang recently discussed how the forthcoming National Broadband Plan broadband access will help transform how citizens interact with the federal government. In his comments at M.I.T.’s Center for Future Civic Media, Huang discussed the need to make primary legal documents “free and publically available online.” Huang noted the need to stream government meetings, public hearings, and town hall meetings online as well as provide public government data to the internet in machine-readable formats.

Huang’s comments hint at a number of broad initiatives in broadband access, open government, and social media use that will be contained in the National Broadband Plan when it is released later this month. Development of the National Broadband Plan is an FCC project authorized in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Huang’s speech can be found online at the FCC’s Broadband blog.

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