(CN) – The Federal Communications Commission has been ordered to reconsider its decision to release documents from an investigation of an alleged AT&T overcharge. The 3rd Circuit told the agency to determine if disclosure would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
AT&T participated in an FCC program called “E-Rate,” in which it provided telecommunications equipment and services to schools and then billed the government for its costs. In August 2004, it voluntarily reported to the FCC that it might have overcharged for work done for a Connecticut school district.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigated the matter. The next year, CompTel, a trade association representing some of AT&T’s competitors, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the investigation report.
Those records contained internal emails detailing pricing and billing, names of employees involved in the alleged overbilling, and AT&T’s assessment of whether and to what extent those employees violated the company’s code of conduct.
AT&T urged the agency to treat the material as confidential, claiming the documents fell under a FOIA exemption for documents produced for law enforcement purposes.
The agency rejected this argument, saying the exemption did not apply to corporations, and AT&T lacked “personal privacy.” Disclosure was stayed pending appeal.
On review, the Philadelphia-based appeals court disagreed with the agency’s position.
“FOIA’s text unambiguously indicates that a corporation may have a ‘personal privacy’ interest” under the claimed exemption, Judge Chagares wrote.
The court granted the company’s petition for review and remanded, telling the FCC to decide if disclosure could be considered an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”