The Supreme Court is in the process of filling its docket for the coming judicial session, and one of those cases is Los Angeles v. Patel.
The twin matters at the heart of this case are whether police have the right to inspect hotel records, and if so, whether they need a court-approved warrant before they can obtain the records. The Fourth Amendment is part of the Court’s legal justification for an expectation of privacy, and hotels are using it to sue over a version of privacy that protects their commercial interests.
If the hotels win the suit, hotel patrons will also gain privacy rights as their identifications remain anonymous. If the city wins, police will continue obtaining hotel records to address crimes from prostitution to gambling to domestic terrorism.
In addition, the Supreme Court could make a broader ruling relating to “facial challenges” to the Fourth Amendment, which could widen or narrow legal interpretations that courts use for applying the law. Another outcome could be that the law giving police authority to seize hotel records remains intact but that it is limited through the warrant process. In any case, the contours of the Fourth Amendment and privacy will continue to be shaped through Los Angeles v. Patel.
Do hotels have the right to protect records of their guests? Where is the line between public safety and privacy? How do you think the Supreme Court will lay the law?
Alan Butler, Senior Counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center
Richard Blass, a criminal defense attorney at the law firm, Richard F. Blass & Associates in Chicago. He is a retired Deputy Police Chief and is general counsel to a police union representing over 100 officers and chiefs