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Justices will decide privacy case on hotel records

October 20, 2014

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed Monday to referee a dispute over police access to hotels' guest information without first getting a search warrant.

The justices said they will hear an appeal by the city of Los Angeles of a lower court ruling that struck down an ordinance that requires hotel operators to open their guest registries at the demand of police.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco was divided 7-4 in ruling that the ordinance violates the privacy rights of the hotels, but not their guests.

Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.

Cities argue that the ordinances help fight prostitution and illegal gambling, aid in the pursuit of fugitives and even could be a tool to track suspects following a terrorist attack.

Los Angeles has said the ordinance makes prostitutes and drug dealers less likely to use hotels if they know that the facilities must collect information about guests and make them available to police on a moment's notice.

Judge Paul Watford wrote for the appeals court that the records are a hotel's private property and "the hotel has the right to exclude others from prying into the contents of its records."

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

The argument in the case Los Angeles v. Patel, 13-1175, will take place in the winter, with a decision expected by late June.

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