Progressives love to attack businesses for violating customer privacy, but then they often show no compunction about dredging their citizens’ personal data for political purposes. Behold New York City’s records sweep of Airbnb hosts, which a federal judge last week enjoined for violating the Fourth Amendment.
The city council last year required Airbnb to report the names, addresses and other apartment information of every host of its 50,000 listings city-wide. Airbnb was threatened with a $1,500 fine for each undisclosed host. City officials led by Mayor Bill de Blasio say they need this data because some Airbnb listings allegedly violate a New York state law that prohibits most short-term rentals of full apartment units.
They also say such rentals restrict the supply of apartments, but if they were truly concerned about a housing shortage they’d abolish rent control. New York’s liberal politicians are really trying to protect the hotel lobby and its unions from competition.
Good news for Airbnb hosts came last week when federal Judge Paul Engelmayer enjoined the council’s data sweep after finding it likely violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. “To satisfy the Fourth Amendment, such a subpoena must have a limited scope, a relevant purpose, and a specificity in its demands,” wrote Judge Engelmayer. New York City’s bill is “the antithesis of a targeted administrative subpoena for business records.”
The judge cited the Supreme Court’s Patel (2015) ruling that struck down a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to retain and share guest information with police. He also invoked last term’s Carpenter decision, which held that “when an individual ‘seeks to preserve something as private,’ and his expectation of privacy is ‘one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable,’ we have held that official intrusion into that private sphere generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause.”
These rulings stretched the Fourth Amendment’s protection in our view, and Carpenter in particular eviscerated the Court’s decades-old doctrine that holds a person has no expectation of privacy for records he has voluntarily turned over to a third party. But those decisions are now the law of the land, and governments must comply. Even Bill de Blasio.