Supreme Court Rules Hotels Not Required to Surrender Registries to Law Enforcers Without a Warrant

What happens when law enforcers enter a hotel and demand to see the registry? That question was, surprisingly, up in the air until now. Even though common sense would dictate that a hotel isn’t required to surrender such information without a warrant being issued the question had to go all the way to the Supreme Court for a definitive answer. Luckily the Nazgûl decided to rule in favor of privacy:

The Supreme Court gave a big boost to privacy Monday when it ruled that hotels and motels could refuse law enforcement demands to search their registries without a subpoena or warrant. The justices were reviewing a challenge to a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to provide information to law enforcement—including guests’ credit card number, home address, driver’s license details, and vehicle license number—at a moment’s notice. Similar ordinances exist in about a hundred other cities stretching from Atlanta to Seattle.

Los Angeles claimed the ordinance (PDF) was needed to battle gambling, prostitution, and even terrorism, and that guests would be less likely to use hotels and motels for illegal purposes if they knew police could access their information at will.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the 5-4 majority, ruled (PDF) that the Los Angeles ordinance violated the Fourth Amendment and is an illegal “pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests.”

What should concern people is that this ruling was determined by only one vote. Had a single Nazgûl voted the other way it would have been legal for law enforcers to storm a hotel and confiscate the registry without even obtaining a warrant. This is why the whole concept of majority rules doesn’t sit well with me. Sometimes the majority make the right decision, such as in this case, and sometimes they make the wrong decision.

It should be noted that this ruling doesn’t require hotels to surrender their registries without a warrant but it doesn’t stop them from voluntarily surrendering them. You should still avoid shitty hotels like Motel 6 that make it company policy to violate their customers’ privacy.