Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



The global financial crisis illustrated what was well known for decades, but not as well felt – that the enormous power amassed by large corporations can have devastating effect on almost every individual around the globe in case of a wave of massive corporate failures. The summer 2011 worldwide social protests built on that understanding calling for more public control of corporations and mover public oversight on the way they operate. 46 years ago, demand for similar oversight over government operations, and a will to limit government power vis-à-vis the citizenry and to provide the public with tools to become more engaged in democratic processes was the background to the enactment of FOIA. This article argues that today similar tools need to be applied to corporations, as they hold much of the information required to allow democratic participation in current affairs, and because of the great public interest in understanding and overseeing their operations. It suggests to do so by imposing upon them a general duty of disclosure, with specific exceptions. It examines the justifications for FOIA and then their applicability to corporate information. It reviews existing mechanisms in the US and other countries, that allow for access to some corporate information, and discusses how they fall short of meeting the needs of an open and democratic society. After considering possible arguments against the notion of freedom of corporate information, it reaches the conclusion that, subject to certain limitations, it is a much needed legal reform whose advantages significantly outweigh its downsides, and which can contribute significantly to a better functioning democratic society and a more responsible corporate world.

Date of Authorship for this Version

Winter 3-1-2012