The Continued Challenges of Safety and Security After 9/11
By Banks Brown Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP | December 14, 2014
Co-authored by Audrey Lu, Associate, McDermott Will & Emery LLP
As this article is being written, two armed police officers guard the front of the building that houses our law offices, and have been a fixture since the UN was in session over three weeks ago. The officers first appeared at the same time that government agents encased in flack jackets, bearing machine guns, and accompanied by canine units appeared on the streets outside of Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library. Last week also brought news that NYC's Office of Emergency Management ran a training exercise that simulated an emergency response to a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploding in Times Square, which according to the simulation, killed 100,000 people instantly, took down skyscrapers for a half-mile radius and inflicted damage up to two miles away, all as a radiation cloud swept over the entire metropolitan region. No doubt, the nation's safety and security are still critical issues.
Yet, as the years have passed since 9/11 and we have seen no successful terrorist attacks on US soil (over 60 threats have reported to have been thwarted since 9/11), the hotel industry has returned to the prior practice of not turning over guest information to law enforcement simply upon demand, the first subject we address below. As for the other topics we discuss – the step up by federal authorities after 9/11 of the strengthening and enforcement of various regulations designed to head off terrorism, including through money laundering – only hotel owners and managers know their own hotels' current level of compliance.
Demand for Guest Information and Hotel Guest Registries
Thirteen years ago, on 9/11, the World Trade Center fell, the Pentagon was burning, and a plane had crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On that day, and in the days and weeks immediately following, US hotels turned over to government agencies an unprecedented amount of data on their guests, and without hesitation. The accepted rule – take your time, make sure the person is really a government agent, and said agent had a written document compelling the hotel to turn over guest information – clearly and immediately took a back seat to the safety and security of the nation. As far as anyone knew, the enemy was in the US in greater numbers, and, perhaps, was currently residing in Room 201 of your most profitable hotel.
The purpose of the accepted rule is to protect hotels against claims by guests that their privacy had been invaded. Therefore, the long-standing practice in the hotel industry has been to not turn over guest information to authorities, absent a warrant, a court order, or a subpoena. This policy was not written in stone. Rather, because the rule was designed to avoid uncertain legal risk, it could be varied by a hotel at any time and traditionally was varied in times of emergency, such as 9/11, where a hotel was certain of the need by lawful authorities.