Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, who covers the courts, takes a look at the state of privacy in America for individuals and for corporations.
Once upon a time, you had to be a person to assert a right to personal privacy. But more and more it seems that the demand for personal privacy flows to large blurry advocacy groups and even larger, blurrier corporations. This trend would be alarming under any circumstances. As it happens, individual privacy rights for real humans seem to be shrinking at the same time corporate privacy rights are expanding.
Disclosure of contributors to political campaigns, and campaign advertisements, used to be an unobjectionable proposition. Now, resisting it is a matter of highest principle. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the United States Chamber of Commerce, told Jake Tapper, “We’re under no obligation, as any organization or association in the United States is, to divulge who its members are, who its contributors are.” Why? Explained Josten: “We’re not going to subject our contributors to harassment, to intimidation, and to threats and to invasions of privacy at their houses and at their places of business, which is what has happened every time there’s been disclosure here.” […]
But it’s not just advocacy groups claiming that they need to protect their members’ privacy rights from leagues of nameless nosy bullies. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear a case in which AT&T prevailed in its efforts to evade a Freedom of Information Act request because Exemption 7(C) of FOIA, protecting “personal privacy,” also now protects the privacy of corporate entities. […]
This growing deference to trembling corporate sensitivity would be merely amusing were it not for the fact that, as the idea of corporate privacy and dignity catches hold in the American judiciary, basic notions of privacy and dignity for actual human beings seem to be on the wane. I am thinking here, just for instance, of an Oklahoma statute that would make available on the Internet identifying information about women who have obtained an abortion. (An earlier version of the bill was struck down, but it was hastily enacted again.)
The purpose of the Oklahoma law is to embarrass, harass, and stigmatize women seeking abortions—the precise argument now being used to bar the disclosure of the names of campaign contributors. How can it possibly be the case that campaign contributions are entitled to a greater measure of privacy and protection from alleged opponents than the personal information of women seeking to make the most difficult and intimate decision of their lives?