E-Newsletter Edition: September 26, 2007
Response Provided By: Brian S. Batterton
Always note that state law may be more restrictive on police power than the U.S. Constitution.
Currently, where does the federal court system stand regarding the running of wanted checks of names, dates of birth, ect. from motel/hotel registers that are voluntarily provided by the manager or owner?
The primary issue regarding this question is whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in information that they supply to the motel/hotel clerk (a third party). The short answer to this issue is, no, a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in information that they supply to a third party. Therefore, officers, if the motel/hotel manager or owner consensually provides them access to this information, may constitutionally check this information for wanted persons. The only exception would be if an individual state has a statute, regulation or rule governing the access to that states criminal information system.
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided a couple of cases dealing with information turned over to third parties. First, in United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), ATF Agent obtained a subpoena for bank records, such as checks and deposit slips, of a particular suspect. The Supreme Court held that this information is used in commercial transactions and the defendant exposed this information voluntarily to third parties. Therefore, the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and later conveyed to government authorities.
Further, in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), officers were investigating a robbery suspect. The victim began receiving phone calls from a person that claimed to be the suspect. The police installed a pen register at the central telephone system to record the phone numbers that the suspect was dialing. The Supreme Court held that the defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers he dialed because those numbers are automatically turned over to a third party, the phone company.
Thus, these cases illustrate that when a person turns over personal information to a third party, they normally relinquish their reasonable expectation of privacy in that information. In addition, the record in which the names a stored at the hotel, was never in the possession of the guest, which goes even further to diminish any expectation of privacy in this information.