US Supreme Court to consider privacy issues in City of Los Angeles v Patel

October 21, 2014 |

Australian privacy related jurisprudence inches along in a state of lassitude. The latest report by the Australian Law Reform Commission advocating reform to this area of law including recommending a statutory tort of for serious invasions of privacy was tabled this year.  Its reception was muted to say the least and the Government has already made it clear that it does not support enacting such a tort.  Meanwhile in the United States the US Supreme Court has displayed continued interest in privacy following on from its unanimous decision in United States v Jones  and the earlier unanimous decision in Kyllo v United States  with its decision to grant a petition to hear an appeal from a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in City of Los Angeles v Patel on whether a hotel has an expectation of privacy in its guest registry notwithstanding a local law authorising the police to inspect the registry.  Following from that the issue before the lower courts was whether a warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution to access that personal information.  The Court of Appeal in a 7-4 decision found that a police officer’s non consensual inspection of a hotel guest’s records was a search of the property based approach in USA v Jones or the privacy based approach in Katz v United States. Now the Supreme Court will venture forth for another review of to what extent the Fourth Amendment affords privacy protection to, in this case, hotel guests from warrantless intrusion by law enforcement.  On a broader level as the court will be considering access to personal information the impact of this decision is likely to be significant.

What is little appreciated is that since the time of Renquist there has been broad unanimity of the bench on privacy and freedom of speech cases.  The 4 – 4 split between the liberals and the conservatives with Kennedy being a swing vote (with a slight bias to the conservatives) is not in evidence on 4th amendment issues which is usually the basis for privacy related cases of late.  Justice Sotomayor has made her interest in privacy abundantly clear, both by way of opinion in Jones and in general commentary (such as on drones and privacy impact).

The petition for a writ of certiorari is found here.  The Respondent’s brief in opposition is found here with the petitioner’s reply found here.

This development has been covered in Justices will decide privacy case on hotel records which provides:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has agreed to referee a dispute over police access to hotel information about guests without first getting a search warrant.

The justices said Monday 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 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.

One Response to “US Supreme Court to consider privacy issues in City of Los Angeles v Patel”

  1. US Supreme Court to consider privacy issues in City of Los Angeles v Patel | Australian Law Blogs

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