The Supreme Court is weighing in on another Fourth Amendment privacy case, this one concerning a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to surrender guest registries to the police upon request without a warrant.
Thejustices agreed(PDF) Monday to hear Los Angeles’ appeal of a lower court that ruled7-4 that the lawmeant to combat prostitution, gambling, and even terrorismwas unconstitutional. The law(PDF) requires hotels to provide the informationincluding guests’ credit card number, home address, driver’s license information, and vehicle license numberat a moment’s notice. Several dozen cities, from Atlanta to Seattle, have similar ordinances.
“The Supreme Court will consider both the scope of privacy protections for hotel guests and also whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits laws that allow unlawful searches,” EPIC wrote. “The second issue has far-reaching consequences because many recent laws authorize the police searches without judicial review. Thus far, courts have only considered “as applied” challenges on a case-by-case basis.”
The appeal is the third high-profile Fourth Amendment case the justices have taken in three years.
In 2012, the justices ruled that authorities generally need search warrants when they affix GPS devices to a vehicle. And earlier this year, the Supreme Court said that the authorities need warrants to peek into the mobile phones of suspects they arrest.
In the latest case,Los Angeles motel owners sued, claiming that the law was a violation of their rights. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the motel owners in December and said the only documentsthey must disclose include a hotel’s proprietary pricing and occupancy information.
Businesses do not ordinarily disclose, and are not expected to disclose, the kind of commercially sensitive information contained in the records, Judge Paul Watford wrote for the majority. He said a hotel has “the right to exclude others from prying into the contents of its records.”
In dissent, Judge Richard Clifton wrote that neither the hotel nor the guest has an expectation of privacy.”A guest’s information is even less personal to the hotel than it is to the guest,” Clifton said.
In arguing to the justices that they should review the majority’s conclusion, Los Angeles city officials wrote(PDF), “These laws expressly help police investigate crimes such as prostitution and gambling, capture dangerous fugitives and even authorize federal law enforcement to examine these registers, an authorization which can be vital in the immediate aftermath of a homeland terrorist attack.”
Thehigh court did not set a hearing date.