A Motel 6 in Warwick, Rhode Island has an agreement with the local police department designed to catch criminals. Unfortunately, the agreement might also violate privacy rights, as it subjects all motel guests to background checks, or, more specifically, to arrest warrant searches without their consent. This story, reported in The Providence Journal and picked up by Gawker, seems destined to inspire nationwide debates about privacy, public safety, crime prevention, and background checks. The Motel 6 in question has recently been the site of a few highly publicized crimes, including human trafficking, child prostitution, and production of methamphetamine.
All of the criminal activity has led to speculation that this particular Motel 6 is a hotspot of sorts for certain types of crime, or at least a low-key spot for criminals to hide out while passing through town. In response to those speculations, Motel 6 is implementing a number of new measures designed to curb criminal activity at the establishment. These measures include hiring an on-site police detail for the evenings and training staff members on how to spot certain types of crime, specifically human trafficking.
But the new policy that will undoubtedly garner the most attention is the one that has to do with background checks. Daily, the motel provides Warwick police with a list of guest's names for the night. The local police department then runs those names through the system, looking for any outstanding wants or warrants. The wrinkle is that the motel does not inform guests of the checks, and according to The Providence Journal, has no intention of doing so in the future. Already, the policy has done some good: Warwick police have made four arrests thanks to the checks. Motel 6 is also looking to adopt the policies at other nearby location, in an effort to curb human trafficking in the area.
The question to be considered here is whether or not this information sharing policy between Warwick's Motel 6 and the local police department is a violation of civil liberties. According to an article published by Gawker, the answer is a clear "yes": a Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has even already made a statement condemning Motel 6 for the new policy. But while condemnations are easy, solutions are tougher. Should Motel 6 inform its guests that they are being treated with suspicion? Should the motel ignore the horrors of human trafficking that are occurring on its premises? Or do the ends justify the means in this case? Regardless of what you think about this situation, we can all expect it to inspire a larger discussion about civil freedoms and background checks in the coming weeks.