Supreme Court to determine if police have access to hotel guest registries

The U.S. Supreme Court will preside over a dispute as to whether or not hotel and motel operators have the ability to challenge a Los Angeles city ordinance allowing police to view guest registries. Local officials argue that this power allows them to investigate crimes such as prostitution and gambling.

According to Reuters, the City of Los Angeles asked the Supreme Court to look into the case after an appeals court claimed the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful searches and seizures. The current ordinance requires hotel operators to collect a list of information on each guest, including their name and address, car model, license plate number and method of payment. The records are then available for police inspection at any time without a warrant.

ABC News reported that the federal appeals court in San Francisco was divided 7-4 in ruling the ordinance violated the privacy rights of hotels but not their guests. Judge Paul Watford wrote for the appeals court that the records are hotel property, and "the hotel has the right to exclude others from prying into the contents of its records."


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Meanwhile, Judge Richard Clifton noted that courts have ruled previously that hotels guests have no expectation of privacy in regards to their names and room numbers on records. "A guest's information is even less personal to the hotel than it is to the guest," Clifton wrote.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a number of motel owners felt intimidated by police, and object to frequent late night inspections of their properties. The court is scheduled to hear arguments for the case, City of Los Angeles vs. Patel, in early 2015.