Imagine that you own a small hotel or motel. One weekend, a group booking arrives and checks in. While taking their IDs and license-plate information, you discover that they're visiting town to attend a political conference the following day. If you're a conservative, imagine that they're Tea Partiers or NRA members. If you're a liberal, think of them as Occupy Wall Street protesters or anti-war activists. Now imagine that an hour, or a day, or two weeks later, a police officer shows up demanding to see all the information you collected from those customers. He has neither a warrant nor any evidence that the guests committed a crime. As a hotel or motel owner, should you be compelled to turn over their information?
The Supreme Court will soon address that question. It agreed this week to hear the case of Patel vs. City of Los Angeles, which touches on two municipal laws. One of the laws "requires hotel and motel operators to collect and record detailed information about their guests in either paper or electronic form. The records must contain: the guest’s name and address; the number of people in the guest’s party; the make, model, and license plate number of the guest’s vehicle if the vehicle will be parked on hotel property; the guest’s date and time of arrival and scheduled date of departure; the room number assigned to the guest; the rate charged and the amount collected for the room; and the method of payment."