Fourth Amendment

LA Motel Owners Fight Police Demands to Fork Over Guest Info


"And how many towels did the suspect use?"

The third-party records doctrine holds that information a person voluntarily provides to a third party is treated differently from information that person holds to him or herself, and thus government gathering of said information is subject to looser rules—subpoenas, rather than warrants. If the third party is cooperative, the government doesn't even need subpoenas sometimes.

The doctrine has gotten some attention in the wake of tech companies' cooperation with NSA metadata gathering. But the conflicts don't have to be so high-tech. In Los Angeles, some motel owners are fighting a law that requires them to gather information about their guests and then hand it over to the police on demand, without either a warrant or a subpoena. Courthouse News reports:

Motels owners fighting a Los Angeles ordinance allowing warrantless searches of registration records told the 9th Circuit that the law is unconstitutional.

The ordinance requires owners to record guest information, including names and addresses; total number of guests; make, type and license number of the guest's vehicle; date and time of arrival; scheduled date of departure; room number; rate charged; method of payment, and name of employee who checked the guest in. Upon request, motel owners must then give such information to police.

After Los Angeles motel owners Naranjibhai and Ramilaben Patel filed suit, U.S. District Judge Dale Fisher found that the Patels did not show they have a privacy interest in the registry information. A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed but the court agreed later to rehear the case en banc.

Judges invoked last year's Supreme Court ruling that police violated the Constitution by putting a tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant, and that ruling matters because the police would have to trespass on the hotel's private property to collect the data. Judge Alex Kozinski had some choice comments when the city's deputy attorney tried to defend the ordinance somehow by explaining that motel owners who refused to cooperate would be cited with a misdemeanor, which the city then magnanimously permitted them to fight:

"Oh that's so much better!" Chief Judge Alex Kozinski sarcastically exclaimed.

"So this is the coercion—they say show me your computer, or I will write you up and you go to jail. Why is that not a trespass?" he asked.

Follow this story and more at Reason 24/7.

Spice up your blog or Website with Reason 24/7 news and Reason articles. You can get the widgets here. If you have a story that would be of interest to Reason's readers please let us know by emailing the 24/7 crew at, or tweet us stories at @reason247.

NEXT: George W. Bush Defends PRISM, Surveillance

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “So this is the coercion – they say show me your computer, or I will write you up and you go to jail. Why is that not a trespass?”

    Nice. There is also the fact that once again we see the government forcing businesses to police their own customers at their own expense and against their wishes. That costs them money and also degrades their relationship with their customers, possibly losing them business. It’s amazing how much the government has done this over the years. It’s part of what makes such a massive government possible, because it’s actually taking even more money from people than it seems by forcing businesses to essentially work for the government for free.

    1. Heh, you beat me to it.

    2. because it’s actually taking even more money from people than it seems by forcing businesses to essentially work for the government for free.

      This, so much this. It’s like how many conservatives demand that the government forcibly make employers deputies of CIS/CBP/whatever agency does that. I’ve always tried to point out just how ridiculous that is.

      1. The amount of policing they have the banks doing for them is insane. The compliance costs are huge.

        1. Yep.

          On that note, I’ve brought that up with lefty friends when talking about voter ID. They have yet to produce a coherent response.

          1. They have yet to produce a coherent response.

            I wouldn’t hold my breath!

            Just wait until the White House slips from President Hollow Chocolate Bunnys bony TEAM BLUE fingers. Then they’ll be all over the “civil liberties” thing again.

            PS: CHRISTFAG

    3. Basically the entire notion of business licensure is coercion.

      I don’t have a huge problem with public health inspections, but health-related this (and most licensure) ain’t.

  2. How is this not a 13th amendment violation?

    1. Commerce Clause.

      1. I am pretty sure it is actually the FYTW clause.

        Same goes for the banking regulations Epi mentions above.

      2. It would be quicker to list all the abuse of power that can’t be justified by the Commerce Clause.

        1. Are you serious?


  3. You know, if the state owned those motels it would be much easier to get that information.

    1. You can bet your ass the NSA already has this info, at least as much of it as is transmitted over networks.

  4. There are similar laws in quite a few cities/states. I’d love to see them struck down.…..46.140REEQ

  5. This data collection would be deja vu for anyone who stayed in a Soviet Bloc hotel pre-1989.

    As late as 1994-1995 Czech hotels required me to leave my passport at the desk until I checked out. It was further required to report my arrival, departure, and nature of business to the local police.

    The curtain we live behind, what is it made of?

    1. Rainbows. It’s the path used by the unicorns who come here to fart in our general direction.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.