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Does A Company Deserve the Same Privacy Rights As You?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-business dept.

Privacy 379

An anonymous reader writes "The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an important case to determine whether or not AT&T deserves 'personal privacy' rights. The company claimed that the FCC should not be allowed to distribute (under a Freedom of Information Act request) data it had collected concerning possible fraud and overbilling related to the e-rate program. The FCC argued that the information should be made public and that companies had no individual right to 'personal privacy,' the way individuals do. As it stands right now, the appeals court found that companies like AT&T do deserve personal privacy rights, and now the Supreme Court will take up that question as well. Given the results of earlier 'corporation rights' cases, such as Citizens United, at some point you wonder if the Supreme Court will also give companies the right to vote directly."

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379 comments

Really (5, Insightful)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739896)

If this comes to pass, then corporations will soon have more rights than people do. I'd expect to see a whole lot of real estate transactions in Delaware, and a lot more corporations being set up as people incorporate themselves to enjoy everything the government has been doing for corporations lately.

Re:Really (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739926)

then corporations will soon have more rights than people do

They already do. They get all the rights we do but with very few of
the consequences.

Re:Really (0, Redundant)

Lemming Mark (849014) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740476)

Hear hear.

Re:Really (1, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740258)

Didn't ya hear?

Come this November Microsoft will be casting approximately ~1 million ballots (one per employee they represent). Ditto Apple. The corporate "person" has won the right to vote. (just joking). The employees *inside* the corporation have the right to vote, speak, hire lobbyists, et cetera but the corporation itself has no more rights than a building.

This truth is self-evident.

Corporations *do* have rights (5, Insightful)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740470)

The employees *inside* the corporation have the right to vote, speak, hire lobbyists, et cetera but the corporation itself has no more rights than a building.

The participants in a corporation are shielded for the most part from personal liability. That's the secret sauce that makes corporations so desirable; the people who form a company can pool their money and the entity is held responsible for the activities they collectively engage in, rather than the individuals involved. This is a great incentive for generating entrepreneurial activity, but it also means that the corporation has a legal life of its own, separate from even the founding individuals, much less people who were brought aboard long after the founders died.

The people inside the corporation spend money on lobbyists, PR campaigns, PACs, and so on, but they are merely the servants of the corporation. When Altria spends millions on local, state, and federal elections every year, it's not because J. Worthington Snipe, the guy who runs their Dirty Tricks Division, is exercising his rights as an individual. It's because Altria is taking advantage of its legal right to free speech, as defined by a series of Supreme Court decisions that completely ignore the fact that voting rights only matter if they are not completely overpowered by the 1st Amendment rights of goliath corporations.

The fact that corporations are legal fictions in no way diminishes the fact that they have been given many rights we would otherwise associate only with human beings.

Re:Really (1)

newviewmedia.com (1137457) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740276)

If corporations want personal privacy maybe shareholders and management should face personal legal ramifications for breaking the law. Instead corporations (banks) just got bailed out for ruining millions of lives and causing this great recession.... unbelievable. What's next? Why not just let corporations take over the government...

Re:Really (5, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740322)

Why not just let corporations take over the government...

Hi, welcome to 21st century America, I see you are new here...

Re:Really (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740338)

Why not just let corporations take over the government...

Implying they haven't already.

Re:Really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740552)

So the majority opinion here is that the Corporation that owns Slashdot, Geeknet, Inc., should have NO rights?

Short answer: no. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739910)

Long answer: noooooooooooooo!

Re:Short answer: no. (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740092)

More justified answer: PERSONal rights are called that for a reason. Corporations are not people. And, even if they were, who said they were citizens?

Part of me though says "Why not? Our rights and laws are fucked up enough already. Why not break it a little more and see if we can get to the tipping point where everyone realizes we need to fix some things at a fundamental level? I'd be happy if this was a period where your average americans started re-examining things like the patriot act, ACTA, and how much corporations get away with already.

Barring that, lining up a bunch of lawyers, CEOs, and special interest groups who are distorting our system, and shooting them, would at least be satisfying, though would likely lead to much worse problems for a while.

Re:Short answer: no. (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740146)

Do corporations accept personal responsibility?

No...?

So how can they possibly demand personal privacy?

Sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

Of course not! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739928)

Only if I don't like them, or I think they're up to no good.
Otherwise, what do they have to hide?

Yes (5, Insightful)

dmomo (256005) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739930)

When it can die like I can. When it can be taken off the streets indefinitely for doing harm to other people, the way I can.

Same goes for free speech in my opinion.

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739986)

Hear, hear

Re:Yes (4, Interesting)

nine-times (778537) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740028)

I say even then, no. The reason we protect the privacy of individuals is because we recognize a need for human dignity, and that people have a right to private lives outside of the public sphere. Businesses, however, are public entities. They don't have "private lives". They don't go home to wives and children at the end of the day.

Re:Yes (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740158)

The reason we protect the privacy of individuals is because we recognize a need for human dignity

Or to help protect us from overreaching laws by making those laws unenforceable.

Given your criteria corps should have the right (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740082)

When it can die like I can. When it can be taken off the streets indefinitely for doing harm to other people, the way I can. Same goes for free speech in my opinion.

Careful, given your criteria corporations should have the right to privacy. I suspect that was not your intent. Judges can order that a corporation be dissolved for misconduct.

Re:Given your criteria corps should have the right (2, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740202)

Judges can order that a corporation be dissolved for misconduct.

He said "die like I can." When a corporation is dissolved, couldn't that just involve all the executives and assets parting ways, possibly temporarily? Maybe in most cases where that actually happens, the CEOs are convicted on charges and go to jail, and fines are imposed too, but -actually dying-?

If we made it a law that if a corporation is convicted of significant fraud or other misconduct, all of the executives would be executed, the assets confiscated rather than any given back to the shareholders, maybe that would be analogous to dying, and we could begin to talk about corporations having the same consequences you or I face.

Alternatively if medical technology gets to a point where your cells could separate and then be rejoined to reconstitute you at a later time, and that became a good way of getting out of jail sentences, then we could also consider corporations and people to be equivalent.

Re:Given your criteria corps should have the right (1)

Azuaron (1480137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740364)

I don't think you understand what a corporation is. If a corporation is dissolved, regardless of what the executives do, the corporation has ceased to exist, i.e., died. Corporations are legal entities, and the dissolving of that legal entity is how you execute a corporation. I can't stress this point enough: a corporation is not the people who work for it.

Further, confiscating the assets, instead of giving the assets back to the shareholders, would screw more people not directly involved with the corporation than people involved in the corporation. For instance, I can own stock in Microsoft. If Microsoft dissolved, the corporation would buy it back, and I would get some of my money back (probably not a lot). You're suggesting I get none of my money back. Why? Who knows! I certainly don't think you have a rational explanation.

Re:Given your criteria corps should have the right (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740524)

Corporations aren't organisms, they can't die because they have yet to live. They're legal constructs. Also, dissolution isn't analogous to being taken out in the street and shot, as is the rightful end to some of the more evil corporations.

Re:Yes (1)

virtualonliner (1278494) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740332)

If we continue on this path, I would expect them to have voting rights pretty soon. If that happens, who decides a corporations vote?

Re:Yes (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740424)

When it's not a "limited liability" and cash-pump for the people who really own it.

When the public (including common shareholders) have full access to the corporate IP and proprietary info and material information so that they can make the same investing decision an insider can make.

When corporations don't get subsidies from the government treasury.

When a corporation doesn't amplify the political influence of its owners to be greater than the votes of the public.

Personal rights are for people (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739932)

Corporations aren't people.

Public Company (5, Insightful)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739936)

As a public company, this is clearly material information that needs to be disclosed to all shareholders (current and potential). Once you start trading stock, your corporate right to privacy pretty much disappears, at least where possible criminal activity is concerned.

Re:Public Company (2, Funny)

microbee (682094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740020)

Right, or allow me to IPO myself and collect money. Yes I'll disclose my whereabouts from time to time by tweeter and foursquare.

Re:Public Company (2, Interesting)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740448)

Currently, you're only required to disclose the location of your headquarters (not your plant; i.e., a mail-drop, not your body), and certain elements of your financial state and activity (which are so loosely defined that you can report losses to be gains and gains to be losses in order to manipulate your stock price without fear of being accused of manipulation)...

Re:Public Company (1)

speroni (1258316) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740208)

Can the FCC buy a share of the company and then demand the information, or would they need controlling interest?

Re:Public Company (2, Informative)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740456)

i think you're missing the point in that statement. if it is possible for anyone to buy shares in a corporation, the it is already bein publicly traded and ALL shareholders are supposed to have access to information that can affect the value of these shares.

If it is a private company, no one can just up and say I'm buying shares in your company!! All investment terms are worked out as the owners of the private company decide (which has the side effect of making it more costly and difficult to get new investment than publicly traded companies, it's a trade-off

choose to go public and you choose to lose the privacy in the hopes of gaining better, easier investments based on the rise in your company's value.

Re:Public Company (2, Informative)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740522)

They can request a copy of the prospectus.

That's it.

Owning a share of common stock does not entitle you to anything the prospectus doesn't say you're entitled to. And the prospectus can say just about anything.

The FCC wouldn't have to buy a controlling interest if it can get on the board, since the board generally has access to everything in the company. But the only sure way to get on the board is to buy a controlling interest. Though if the board decides they don't want you, it will have to be a hostile takeover. That's provided there is a board.

Voting (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739938)

Companies already vote with their money.

wishing you weren't anonymous (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740342)

I'da modded you up.

Since when are rights deserved? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33739948)

Rights exist or don't exist. Once you start to use the term "Do X deserve the right to Y?" you have already lost.

Re:Since when are rights deserved? (1, Interesting)

OverlyGenericUsernam (1189255) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740022)

So, by this logic, dogs can now vote?

Re:Since when are rights deserved? (2, Funny)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740160)

They have the right, but not the ability. Damned lack of opposable thumbs!

Re:Since when are rights deserved? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740186)

I am not sure whether you are trolling or just joking. Your post is silly and off-topic.

If the question was "Does X deserve the right to vote?" it would imply that X would have to go through some trial or tribulation or somehow "prove" themselves in order to be granted this right. Women might for example then be found "deserving" of the right to vote by weighing up how much they have done for men. In that case the word is not 'right' but 'permission' or something similar. This goes for dogs, monkeys and people in a coma. Rights are not deserved - they exist or don't exist, or may be recognised or not recognised.

Re:Since when are rights deserved? (1)

tacarat (696339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740094)

Rights are not "rights". They're privileges that we agree to bestow each other. The right to free speech is pretty easily circumvented by a baseball bat to the face. As for corporations, the question might not be "do they deserve this right" as much as "what responsibility will they take up with this"? The right/freedom to bear arms is carefully balanced against the responsibility to go shooting people randomly and such. That's why it'll always be a sensitive topic Americans. Why revoke a right for the many when only abused by the few?

Re:Since when are rights deserved? (2, Insightful)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740256)

Since when are rights deserved? ... Rights exist or don't exist.

You're misreading the phrase, badly. It doesn't ask if rights deserve to exist, but if corporations have rights and thus deserve to have them protected by law.

When someone writes, "does a tree deserve the rights to life liberty and happiness", they aren't asking if rights are deserved, but if the tree has rights deserving of protection.

Linguistic ambiguity. (1)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740384)

Rights in the Deist sense of Natural Law -Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness are one use of the word.
The legal rights are what you are legally entitled to- as in "you have the right to an attorney, if you are unable to afford one, one will be provided".
Legal protections can be voided, Natural Law cant. So deserved rights are legal issues. Corporations as a fully artificial construct are not provided the Rights of Natural Law, though corporation have legal rights.

Though corporations should have some privacy rights, they should not enjoy the full measure of a persons privacy.

Re:Linguistic ambiguity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740496)

So political parties also do not have a natural right to ask people to vote for them, only a legal right, because they are artificial constructs?

And for every political party the question must be asked, "does this party deserve the right to solicit votes? let us consider, what has the party done to make itself deserving of this right?" If the political party has not done enough it is undeserving and may not be granted the right?

Seems like a strange world and not how the term "right" is usually used. I can't see a good reason for your distinction between artificial and natural either. If it is not so that all political parties are able to solicit votes by default it would seem that 'granting permission' is a better term.

Citizens United (1, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739968)

The Citizens United case has no bearing on this one. Anyone who disagrees with the Citizens United decision is dreadfully confused about what free speech means. If a few friends can't start an organization with the goal of promoting their political views without the government telling them what they may and may not say, then we may as well just pack it in right now.

Re:Citizens United (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740032)

And hey, if those "few friends" should *happen* to have tens of millions of dollars and *happen* to want legislation passed to benefit them, why shouldn't they be able to buy some votes, amirite?

Re:Citizens United (3, Insightful)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740080)

And this is different from any individual buying any of this how? I'm pretty sure Bill Gates (or, if you prefer, Steve Forbes) can buy elections on his own just as well as most corporations can.

Rights do not disappear because you associate with someone, or because you have more money than them. Rush Limbaugh has just as much right to free speech as I do, despite the fact that he influences a great many more people.

Keep in mind that the New York Times is a corporation. So is every other news organization. Why should only "news" organizations be allowed political free speech?

A corporation is nothing more than a specific legal organization of individuals. Corporations do not have rights, but the individuals organized in them do not lose their rights just because they organized.

Re:Citizens United (4, Insightful)

Altus (1034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740308)

Freedom of the press is outlined separately in the first amendment from freedom of speech. Maybe there was a reason for that. Wouldn't freedom of speech alone be sufficient if all corporations (news papers included) had the same freedom of speech as other citizens?

Re:Citizens United (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740434)

Ah, so because extra steps were taken to ENSURE that freedom in ALL its forms is protected, that means that we can decide that it means that neither is so protected after all! Of course!

The main argument against the bill of rights was that it was entirely unnecessary; under what circumstances could the federal government want to do any of these awful things to citizens, and under what circumstances would the states and citizens allow that to happen? It was unthinkable.

But, by your logic, since these freedoms WERE have to be spelled out, perhaps they're not so core and important after all!

Re:Citizens United (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740372)

Corporations do not have rights, but the individuals organized in them do not lose their rights just because they organized.

I heartily agree with this, and firmly disagree with the Citizens United ruling. Before Citizens United you lost no rights by incorporating. None. ZERO Every person in the country was free to say anything he wanted, and donate as much as he wanted. You could even organize with your friends and speak as a group.

What you couldn't do was incorporate and use that corporation as a political tool. See, corporations are an artificial construct. The government is under no obligation to recognize the existence of corporations. They could abolish the concept of the corporation entirely, and that would have no affect on your free speech rights. Since the corporation is a construct created entirely by the government, they get to define the scope of that construct.

So you see, limits on corporations have nothing to do with your personal rights to free speech and free assembly. You had exactly the same amount of free speech rights before Citizen's United as you would have in the absence of corporations. Anything the government chooses to facilitate with corporations is a bonus above and beyond your natural rights.

Re:Citizens United (1)

Gaccm (80209) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740484)

Rights do not disappear because you associate with someone, or because you have more money than them. Rush Limbaugh has just as much right to free speech as I do, despite the fact that he influences a great many more people.

Actually rights can and do disappear because you associate with people. The entire crime of conspiracy is premised on the idea that multiple individuals working together as a group are more dangerous than the individuals working separately. If I say "I am going to rob a bank," I've done nothing illegal. If I say to Person A "Do you want to rob a bank with me?" and Person A responds "Yes," then I've just committed the crime of conspiracy.*

In criminal law it's viewed as suspect when multiple people combine forces, and I don't see why this shouldn't continue to be true in regulation if those people incorporate themselves.

*Yes, this is a very simplified description of conspiracy. The wiki article has much more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_(crime) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Citizens United (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740048)

Gigantic gay cocks rhythmically thrusting into your swollen distended anus.

Re:Citizens United (4, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740118)

I have no problem with a few friends starting an organization with a goal of promoting political views, yet I dislike the Citizens United decision. The amount of money now being spent on political causes undermines the very notion of democracy, and after Citizens United, will only get worse. The problem is that we're not just talking about "a few friends" -- we're talking about "hundreds of millions of dollars". We're talking about money being able to buy elections via controlling the media with cold, hard cash.

The way I see it, if we sit back and allow multi-billion dollar corporations control our elections, we might as well pack it in.

Go ahead, trumpet your free speech rights all you want -- as an insignificant slave to our corporate masters, what good does your free speech do? Do you think anyone will listen to you when the media is dominated by organizations outspending you by a factor of a thousand to one?

We need to remove the need for astounding amounts of money from the political process. This is the only way we can restore some form of democracy.

Re:Citizens United (3, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740190)

I'll tell you what undermines the country: simply deciding that you don't like something, and so the rule of law can go to hell.

Re:Citizens United (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740182)

Citizens United has no bearing over what you can say. Before and after Citizens United you could say anything you wanted about the government.

Re:Citizens United (3, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740210)

I suppose you'd say I were just as free if the government specified that I was only allowed to criticize the government in falsetto, wearing a tutu, and addressing a potted plant.

Re:Citizens United (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740538)

Don't the government ALREADY do that thanks to "free speech zones"? Hell just think about how much longer they could have dragged out their profiteering....err I mean spreading of democracy, in Vietnam if they could have kept all those dirty filthy protesters a couple of miles away from the camera? As for TFA, might as well let them have it, it isn't like we haven't already lost the country anyway. If the citizens had any say anymore pot would be legal, that bailout wouldn't have happened, we wouldn't be in Iraq, etc. might as well grab everything you can from old Uncle Sam before they burn the whole thing down for the insurance.

Re:Citizens United (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740316)

If a few friends can't start an organization with the goal of promoting their political views without the government telling them what they may and may not say

You're completely missing the plot. It was already legal to do so. Look up what a PAC is. It is the embodiment of your definition. What is different now is that an organization set up with the only goal to make money as effectively as possible is now allowed to participate in the voting process in all but name.

That doesn't strike you as odd? A collection of people whose leaders are required by their organizations' charters to act like sociopaths can now directly influence the democratic process? You need to make a choice at this point: would you like to live in a functioning society, or in one where sociopaths can leverage more money than many nation states to advance their personal desires?

Re:Citizens United (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740416)

"participate in the voting process in all but name" - I'm sorry, I must have missed the part where corporations were voting.

All that they're doing is attempting to persuade people. That's it. Do you believe that people will simply vote for whoever spends the most on advertising?

Companies should get NO rights (0, Troll)

BubbaDave (1352535) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739984)

Companies are not PEOPLE- people have rights, companies and corporations should not.

Of course they are treated like people and do have rights- a source of many of our problems.

BTW, the RIAA already has rights people don't.

Dave

No. (2)

Kidbro (80868) | more than 3 years ago | (#33739994)

Well, that was easy. Next question?

Re:No. (1)

waferhead (557795) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740212)

Wasting a mod point to reply... Yes.

I have no issue giving the corporation the right to vote as an individual... One vote...
With the same limitations as to contributions an individual has. (one person) and prohibition of lobbying expenses over some trivial amount.

Corporations have "owned" politicians for ages. Thats what must end.

Here's what a "person" can contribute... Lobbying expenses perhaps should fall under these caps.
http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/contriblaws.htm [about.com]

Conflict of Interest (2, Interesting)

mandelbr0t (1015855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740014)

And in the case where corporate and individual privacy rights are in conflict, guess which way the courts will likely rule. While a privately-owned company may have the right to completely hide its business dealings from the public, a publicly-traded one like AT&T shouldn't be allowed to hide behind "privacy" concerns when the real issue is that they've been caught doing dirty business.

No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1, Interesting)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740016)

The problem with restricting privacy rights to individuals only is that ultimately no organization, corporate or not, will have privacy rights. Except perhaps churches in countries that grant them a special status. Beware the unintended consequences of a well intentioned idea.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740200)

I fail to see a problem here. Corporations are not people, nor are other collections of people. The reason why individuals have a right to privacy which is enshrined in various portions of the constitution is that an individual has far, far more to lose than a corporate entity does if the information is made public.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740366)

I fail to see a problem here. Corporations are not people, nor are other collections of people. The reason why individuals have a right to privacy which is enshrined in various portions of the constitution is that an individual has far, far more to lose than a corporate entity does if the information is made public.

It is silly to think that an organization's information can not harm an individual. Consider the membership rolls of a "red leaning" organization during the McCarthy era.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740218)

Even with the examples you've given, I'm not seeing how it's a bad idea.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740278)

Even with the examples you've given, I'm not seeing how it's a bad idea.

You belong to a social advocacy or political group that makes a mistake on a tax filing. The IRS collects documentation including membership rolls. Now that membership roll is available through a freedom of information act request.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740532)

Is there a precedent on that? You would think that releasing that publicly would violate the individual right to privacy of each of those people on the list. It's no longer a violation against the company, but against the people.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740246)

Except that a corporation is a special organization, with special privileges and responsibilities. A private, non-corporate club is not obligated to inform anyone of its financial status, nor is it required to seek profits, nor must it be chartered anywhere. None of the above is true of a corporation.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740286)

In my mind, corporations are an artifice created to grant certain specific protections to people above and beyond what individuals inherently have. Because of this, it is not unreasonable to expect certain trade-offs if it's practical. "Yes, we'll grant you these additional protections insofar as you're acting on behalf of this 'corporation', but you must give up these rights/protections in return."

The right/ability to form corporate structures is not an inalienable human right, and forming corporate structures is entirely voluntary. You can form organizations which are not incorporated. You and I and other like-minded individuals can meet and discuss things on our own and enjoy privacy without any government sanction, and that is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. However, I don't think there is any Constitutional right to form special government-protected super-organizations with special rights without any anticipation of transparency.

Re:No org, corporate or not, will have privacy (1)

Chowderbags (847952) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740422)

Given all the abuse, hooker, and corruption scandals of a wide variety of religious groups, churches could do with a lot more transparency.

Discrimination? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740026)

If corporations have personal rights, is that always the case, or only when the law in question fails to specifically distinguish between real people and companies?

For example, my understanding is that McCain-Feingold was struck down becuase it limited the "free speech" of corporations.

On the other hand, there are other laws I think, perhaps pertaining to voting, that absolutely must never treat corporations as identical to real people.

Re:Discrimination? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740302)

The right to vote and the right to free speech are tightly enmeshed. There's only two things that a person can do which will result in them losing the right to vote, get convicted of a felony or give up ones citizenship.

It was a serious joke to allow corporations and unions to have the same right to speech that individuals have. One of the biggest problems with the political system right now is huge amounts of money funneled in to the races. Allowing groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to slander whomever they like.

Locally the BIAW [theolympian.com] just got slapped with a half million dollar penalty for violating campaign financing laws. They've been active in trying to get Republicans elected to the state legislature here in WA, and have shown no particular interest in complying with campaign finance law.

Re:Discrimination? (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740500)

there seems to be a disconnect between a corporation having the same privacy rights as people, or having privacy rights that happen to be the same as those afforded individuals. I don't dispute the corporations have a right to some degree of privacy, I'm not sure that should be the same as is extended to people or not, but a corporation is a collection of people, and at some point you cannot decouple the people of a corporation from a 'person' on their own. A person has a right to keep their salary private, so by extension people in a corporation should be allowed to keep their salaries private, because it's the same right just from a different direction. (Caveat: not government employees in ontario where I live though, since if they make over 100k/year their salary is public, but I'm trying to illustrate a point).

If a corporation cannot have free speech, but cannot infringe on the free speech of employees/owners what exactly does that mean for corporate policies or corporate employees that have opinions they wish to voice? Isn't that a bit like trying to enforce don't ask don't tell for both straight and gay people? And shouldn't a collection of people be free to say what it thinks best represents the interests of its members/owners, employees or customers? In an era where our 'work' persona's and personal persona's are somewhat intertwined, and significantly less separate from the era of punching a card to be on the clock, or not, it seems like courts have to be careful that limiting the 'rights' of a corporation is really limiting the rights of the people that make up the corporation.

Which sort of goes to your idea of voting. A corporation as an entity doesn't get the right to vote because the people within the corporation have the right to vote, and you cannot take away the right to vote of a corporation because that would imply taking away the right to vote of the members of the corporation, but you don't grant it either, because the people as part of it already have that right. McCain-Feingold falls afoul of the idea that a collection of people (of whatever type of organization) can freely express their opinions, because it's ultimately a personal right that happens to be going through a company, at least that's how I figure it. IANAL and not even an american subject to it.

For all of the hate on corporations, really that hate should probably be directed specifically at the people who control the corporation, not the entirety of the corporate entity, which oddly probably includes most of us through pension plans.

Can you arrest them? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740038)

If you want the right to privacy, then you need to be arrestable. Aka, if they are found guilty of a crime, then the entire corporation must go to jail. After all, if they can't be held responsible, then they shouldn't get the ability to hide their actions.

Yes, corps subject to prosecution (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740220)

If you want the right to privacy, then you need to be arrestable. Aka, if they are found guilty of a crime, then the entire corporation must go to jail. After all, if they can't be held responsible, then they shouldn't get the ability to hide their actions.

Corporate officers can be sued or prosecuted for their decisions and actions. Corporations themselves can be dissolved due to misconduct.

Re:Yes, corps subject to prosecution (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740348)

If the individuals go to jail then the individuals get privacy rights. As for corporations Dissolved - see Blackwater. They just change their names and continue business as usual. They want GROUP rights to privacy then they need GROUP punishement. Specifically, would you consider jailing just your right hand to be sufficient penalty if you commit a murder with your right hand? The penalties you describe are no where near sufficient.

What happens is this:

They set up distributed responsibility. So no single person commits sufficient crime, but their actions in total are a horrendous crime. CEO says do X, without giving proper warning about not breaking the law. Lawyers set up clear rules stating Y is not allowed, but Y-1 is. VP's boss VP says do I don't care about the law, just get X done. VP's underling, (Manager) says "Yeah the rules are no Y, but we absolutely have to get X done. If we do this complex procedure, as long as employees do 30 minute prep work "Z", then we get X without Y. So it is now approved. Employee complains that they can't get Z done in time, please what should I do. Manager says we must do X or you are fired. Manager passes buck up. Employee does X but not Z. Employee gets blamed. No. CEO never never the proper emphasis. CEO did not do his job, but stays out of jail. Employee testifies in court that he complained about the procedure. Manager says he had procedure. No one gets jailed. Bull.

Re:Can you arrest them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740510)

If you want the right to privacy, then you need to be arrestable.

Did you just make this dumb shit on your own or are you ready to back it up with some real legal grounds?

It seems that you just like to hear your own lips move and don't give fuck all about putting some logic to the shit you spew.

Yes and no (1)

bigsexyjoe (581721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740060)

No, as in I don't think this was the intention of the authors of the Bill of Rights or the 14th amendment. But yes, as in this is consistent with the way the courts have always ruled; that the 14th amendment gives corporations all Bill of Rights protections. They decided this in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886. They have held this precedent for 114 years now. They have recently upheld this in the controversial recent Citizens United case. I think it's B.S. that corporations have "human" rights in the U.S. but the courts will continue to maintain that position and you can expect AT&T to win.

Corporations are not citizens (2, Insightful)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740124)

Representation in our government is supposed to be reserved for citizens. Corporations are not citizens, as they are not PEOPLE! I would never go so far as to think that corporations should not hold a certain amount of protection under the law, but this is getting ridiculous.

Corporations generally employ groups of people. The rights of this group should be decided based on the rights of the citizens involved. By giving corporations legal rights as individuals the US government is creating a subclass of citizens which have more rights than other citizens based on ownership & employment. This is completely backwards in that publicly traded companies are supposed to be publicly owned, and therefore "Personal Privacy" of corporations becomes nothing more than a farce for withholding information important to a public purchase.

All lobbying should be done by virtue of the rights of an individual citizen, not some money machine. Remove this piece of corruption and require all companies lobbying before Congress to include a list of citizens they represent. This means employees & shareholders of these companies would have to agree to be on that list, for EACH LOBBIED SUBJECT. Very quickly we will all see the truth of who's interests are being represented.

/RANT

Re:Corporations are not citizens (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740206)

The rights of this group should be decided based on the rights of the citizens involved.

Already done. We do it by creating the legal fiction of corporate personhood.

One thing that crops up (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740136)

A decent-sized corporation at the least is equivalent to a public figure. So right there, they'd have a lower expectation of privacy than I would have as a private, nearly anonymous person. Second, I think it's already established that a regulated business which deals with the public has a lower expectation of privacy than a private person.

Consider this. Suppose I personally were doing the business that AT&T was doing. Namely, my superdooper transhumanist implants or whatever allowed me to do the business of a few hundred thousand member corporation. Do I have an expectation of privacy that allows me to deep six an FCC report directly pertaining to my activities that I might find unfavorable to me? To be blunt, I don't think so. In other words, even if we grant a corporation the same privacy rights as a person, I don't see that a person would have an expectation of privacy in this circumstance.

Clever argument (1)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740548)

I like that one. If you're not a lawyer, you should be one. This is exactly how you route around bad law. Mitigate it's negative effects by creatively analogizing from another field. The argument would be an uphill slope, but I wonder if any public advocacy groups have thought of taking this approch.

The same rights (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740138)

They get the same privacy rights that the rest of us do. They get to have their browsing habits spied upon, their junk fondled at the airport, and all of their trade secrets given to hackers when a human happens to leave their private information on a public server like an idiot.

One company, one vote (1)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740168)

Consider the following: What if a corporation were allowed to vote - one corporation, one vote. How much would that change things, when there are millions of people voting? Indeed, if we could limit the influence of a corporation down to just one vote, that would likely be better than what we have now, where a corporation can influence millions of votes via "soft money" funding of political parties.

In reality, it's not the idea that "corporations can vote" - it's the idea that "rich people, via corporations, can vote more than their fair share". Yes, if "corporations" could vote, then you'd see the Rich And Powerful creating millions of shell corporations to increase their own voting power.

But if I could limit [Koch|Microsoft|Ford|BP|..] to just ONE vote....

Re:One company, one vote (1)

Altus (1034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740400)

people who could afford to found their own personal corporation would have double the voting power of those who could not afford it.

In fact, someone wealthy could found thousands of corporations just to get more votes. The could operate them out of s single rental space if an actual address was necessary and sublet out the space to all the corps by the square foot. They could move the corps from district to district between elections depending on what locations needed what particular push to go the way they wanted.

Small groups of wealthy people could coordinate to use such a system to get anyone they wanted elected.

Corporations cannot vote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740172)

The right to vote is explicitly given to citizens, not persons. Most other rights that people think of, like free speech, are given to persons. This is whether they are natural or legal persons. Making a corporation a citizen would require amending the constitution as the only way to get citizenship is immigration or being natural born.

Instead, they "lobby" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740216)

It's like voting millions of times.

Let Congress decide (2, Informative)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740198)

Corporations are legal entities defined by law and their rights should also be defined by law. Of course the Congress will do what is right for their contributors. So the people lose either way.

both are wrong. (4, Insightful)

LOTHAR, of the Hill (14645) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740214)

The concept of rights isn't about what a person can and can't do, it's about limiting the power of government. Freedom of speech is a right. It's implementation in the first amendment is important. The first five words of the first amendment are "Congress shall pass no law". This is an important distinction from "People have the right to" or "People can say whatever they want". "none shall pass", it doesn't matter if it's a flesh wound or a mortal wound, Congress can't make restrictions. Whether people have rights that companies do not is moot. It's whether the government can or can't restrict certain activities.

Some refer to the equal protection clause under these types of situations, but the notion of equality is only relevant if the two entities being compared are effectively equivalent. The notion that companies are equivalent to people is absurd. If companies are equivalent to people, how do you count votes for a company, and in what districts?

Re:both are wrong. (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740540)

You're conflating people and corporations. Corporations are constructs supported by government edict. They are not people. As they are made by government edicts, they can be remade. Which means that the first amendment doesn't apply.

No (4, Insightful)

CherniyVolk (513591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740224)

A "Company" already is awarded benefits that are grotesquely wrong. One of my main complaints is that the law views a "Corporation" as a single entity, and in this course physical individuals are legally shielded from direct complaints. Only in the most extreme scenerio, oft brought to light by other equally powerful entities, can an individual or board room member be personally charged with a crime.

So I think Companies, Corporations are granted free reign on any tyrannical act they deem profitable. This is already far too much in my opinion.

Now, on to the issue brought up, under my premise that they already get away with murder, my main disagreement with the idea that they should be awarded personal Rights stems from another argument the have to circumvent immediate democratic measures; in other words, they argue that since they employ people that they inherently represent their views regardless under the assumption what's good for the company in turn is good for it's employees and thus surrounding society. This rationale is so flawed, one could write a book on how it's incorrect even without touching on giving jobs to foreigners or off-shore employees.

The above argument basically boils down to public representation. If you are representing the interests of the public, then you should abide by rules, regulations and scrutiny of the public. Period, no other way around it, no argument suffices to contradict this demand. Companies can't have both to choose from whenever the situation best suits them. When they indirectly cause a famine in Africa.... they are a single entity and those involved aren't directly charged and convicted. When the government comes for them, then they want to hide behind Personal Rights as granted to individuals... all the while, they also have to abide by business laws, and international legislation....

No, AT&T does not deserve explicit rights granted to Individual Citizens. They do not deserve the rights they already have.

The Surpreme Court Ruled ( +2, Helpful ) (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740324)

Corporations are people and can donate (errrr........... buy ) politicians.

Yours In Vladivostok,
K. Trout

Bush-Romney 2012 !!!

Public (4, Interesting)

Anomalyx (1731404) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740328)

Take any random citizen - let's just say me, for example. Since AT&T is a publicly traded corporation, I can, at will, by shares in the ownership of AT&T. Since I have partial ownership, I should be able to see whatever non-confidential information of theirs that I want (by confidential, I mean stuff like credit card numbers, anything under a client-lawyer protection, etc.). Since anybody at all can buy shares, I'd say it would be far easier to make the publicly-traded company's information publicly available. At MINIMUM, the shareholders should get it. They own the corporation, after all.

Simple Answer (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740340)

Really simple. Publicly traded companies need to be Publicly Accountable. So, "NO".

The next step... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740346)

Abolish trademarks!

Trademarks are intended to build brand recognition for goods or services. The idea is that a consumer has an honest perception of the source they are interacting with. It benefits both the producer and the consumer that their good name is defended from impersonators. It allows a company to build an honest reputation (good or bad). If we limit categories of negative information that can be disclosed for a particular brand - then how can a consumer reach a fair or balanced opinion? It follows that public perception of a trademarks is a farce, so trademark protection should no longer be enforced.

Does anyone really want that?

No (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740380)

The Constitution of the United States of America talks about how the government is to be organized. It also spells out some of the rights of it's citizens (mostly in the Amendments, particularly the Bill of Rights). It's been a while since I've read the whole thing, but I don't recall a single reference to corporations.

Corporations aren't people. They should have very limited rights. Certainly no right to privacy. Certainly no right to free speech.

But money can apparently buy just about anything in the USA. It's already bought corporations more free speech than actual citizens. No doubt it will soon buy corporations more privacy than citizens too. Ain't fascism wonderful?

Corporations aren't people (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33740382)

Recently on August 23rd this year, UNITED STATES v. HAVELOCK concluded that mailing threatening communications in violation of 18 U.S.C. 876(c), which makes it a felony to mail a communication addressed to any other person, does not apply to companies and corporations like news organizations. So since they are not persons, they should not be bound by personal privacy laws.

Rights Are not "Deserved" (5, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740394)

Rights are not privileges. Privileges might be deserved or not. Rights are not "deserved": they are an inalienable feature of a person. Whatever the "creator" is, the creator of actual people that endowed people with inalienable rights is not a person (nor a government), and does not create corporations. People and governments create corporations, which do not have inalienable anything. Corporations are put together and made, and they can be separated from anything that makes them. They have no rights, only privileges actually assigned to the people who are the executives of the corporation.

The entire notion that a corporation is a person is a legal fraud originally perpetrated as a scam [wikipedia.org] by a railroad monopoly. It's only though relentless corporate interference with the law in the US that corporations are treated as "persons" in any way. This fundamental injustice is the deepest flaw in our current democratic republic, and the source of the majority of our hardest to solve problems.

As for privacy, the US government already fails to protect the privacy of actual people according to the enumeration in the Fourth Amendment [cornell.edu] : "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects". Somehow Supreme Court justices can read that specification and not recognize the right to privacy it not only recognizes, but actually enumerates. To protect the privacy of corporations as a matter of "right" would pervert the fundamental basis of the US government beyond any ability to take it seriously except as a public office of private corporate power.

No (1)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740404)

Individuals have rights. Corporations are simply a group of people who collaborate. The individuals still have rights, but their association doesn't magically create a "corporate person." I understand the whole convenience-for-tax-purposes element. A corporation isn't a sentient entity, and thus cannot have an expectation of ... anything. (The people operating the company have lots of expectations, but that's a completely different conversation.)

Talk-radio style argument against (3, Interesting)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740430)

"My friends, if the courts start granting rights to legal fictions, then what's to keep them from granting rights to fictional characters? Should you have the right to marry Harry Potter? Why not grant privacy rights to ghosts, or robots, or horses, or zombies? If a fictional zombie is on your property, breaking into your house, going to eat your wife, your daughter, your grandma, and you've got a loaded shotgun in your hands, do you want to have to stop and worry about its rights? How about video game characters? Should Duke Nukem have to worry about being sued by the mutants he's gunning down? I mean, where does it end? The time is 5:28..."

.

Wait, AT&T? (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740444)

AT&T wants personal privacy rights? The guys who oh-so-helpfully set up special rooms for the NSA to intercept data traffic, thus violating the personal privacy rights of everyone using their network? That AT&T? Pay attention, Ms. Morissette, for THAT is ironic.

There are no collective rights! (4, Insightful)

Maltheus (248271) | more than 3 years ago | (#33740518)

There is no notion of collective rights in the constitution, only individual rights. Corporations (and LLCs) are state sponsored entities where businesses give up some of their rights in exchange for limited liability. By granting them the same rights as people, while still granting them limited liability, they're elevating corporations above individuals.

Now if you're talking about a proprietorship or a partnership, then yes they should have privacy rights as their liability is the same as yours or mine.

If AT&T doesn't want to play by the rules, then they should have their corporate charter revoked. Otherwise just shut up and enjoy your dance with the devil.

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