Should the Details of Your Hotel Stay Remain Private? Should They Be Kept Easily Accessible to Police?

The Supreme Court has granted cert in the case of City of Los Angeles v. Patel, meaning they will consider the Los Angeles regulation requiring hotels make guest records available to police for inspection.

The lawsuit is a ‘facial challenge’ to the regulation, meaning it argues the regulation is always unconstitutional as a violation of the 4th amendment, rather than the hotel owners bringing suit because their rights were violated in a specific case.

The initial court split 2-1 in rejecting the suit arguing that a facial challenge to the law can’t succeed because without a specific fact situation at issue they cannot know that the rule is always and everywhere unconstitutional. (They cite precedent on this, of course, the details of which are beyond the scope of this post or my existing set of knowledge.)

That court wasn’t holding that the rule was constitutional in a given circumstance, or otherwise appropriate — just that there wasn’t a valid challenge to the law in this case, as the police hadn’t actually used the law against the hotel owners.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed and ruled that the law was invalid because:

  • Requiring hotels to give police access to their records is a search
  • The search is unreasonable because there’s no judicial review, no opportunity to challenge police requests for access in court.

The Supreme Court will hear:

(1) Whether facial challenges to ordinances and statutes are permitted under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) whether a hotel has an expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in a hotel guest registry where the guest-supplied information is mandated by law and an ordinance authorizes the police to inspect the registry, and if so, whether the ordinance is facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment unless it expressly provides for pre-compliance judicial review before the police can inspect the registry.

I am not a lawyer, let alone a fourth amendment scholar. Lawyers among my readers can certainly offer in the comments whether my read of the regulation and what the courts have done so far is accurate.

I’ll just suggest that hotel guest records have a long history of being held to a strict standard of privacy and discretion, there certain seems to be an expectation of privacy that ought to be recognized in a fourth amendment context.

If a law can require a hotel to collect and keep data, and authorizes an agency of government to inspect the records, it ought to be for a reason which advances a clear legitimate purpose, and that purpose ought to be disputable in front of a judge.

The hotel may be required to keep records on their guests, but the hotel and guest have established a trust relationship.

When you need a replacement room key, you have to demonstrate your identity to a hotel. They won’t even generally reveal the room number that a guest is staying in, even if you have a legitimate reason for asking. There’s personal protection reasons for this, and discretion.

The details of a guest’s stay at a hotel have a long tradition of being private, and the best hotels have exercised the greatest discretion. Every hotel chain has a data privacy policy as well.

Whether or not a facial challenge on fourth amendment grounds is appropriate, though, is a question I’ll leave to the lawyers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »