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Motel 6: We’ll Leave The Light on For You (and Let the Police Know You’re Here)

UPDATE: Warwick, RI Police Chief Stephen McCartney has discontinued his department’s recent practice of accepting the local Motel 6 guest list on a daily basis. The Providence Journal reports that invasion-of-privacy concerns outweighed any potential criminal deterrence that Motel 6 instigated the practice to achieve.

A Motel 6 establishment located in Warwick, Rhode Island, has unveiled a new strategy to respond to the rampant illegal activity of its guests. Given the 75 arrests over the past 14 months at that location – sex trafficking, drug busts, meth labs and shootings – Motel 6 executives have initiated a controversial policy: voluntarily providing its daily guest list to local police. What’s more, the motel does not intend to inform its guests that their names are being provided to law enforcement. The idea is that frequent visits by the police will ultimately prompt undesirables to migrate to less-surveilled locations. It is currently unknown whether Motel 6 is utilizing this approach in other locations.

Predictably, this new policy has rankled civil rights groups who consider the policy to be an invasion of privacy. However, Rhode Island ACLU representatives have bemoaned the fact that once a guest volunteers personal information at registration, the motel can use it however it wishes, including freely giving it to local police. As such, the concern is that guests may have no recourse to protect such information.

The answer may come sooner rather than later. The U.S. Supreme Court, in City of Los Angeles v. Patel, is considering whether a Los Angeles city ordinance requiring motels and hotels (under threat of civil penalties) to present their guest registries to any local police officer upon demand is constitutional. The property owners contend that they, in fact, have an expectation of privacy in their guest registry information under the Fourth Amendment. As such, they argue that the city ordinance, as enacted, authorizes illegal warrantless searches. The City disputes that any privacy exists in registries that are often times left open for guest review.

Regardless, if you are staying at the Motel 6 in Warwick, Rhode Island, the local police will know about it. Whether the ruling in Patel changes that policy remains to be seen.

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.