constitutional

Editorial
UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Hotels Also Snitch

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor

The U.S. government uses informers to snitch on drug users, and it has engaged the banks to report on their customers' accounts. Now hotels have been turned into spies also. The U.S.A. is becoming more and more like the old USSR and its KGB, spying on the people from all directions, and turning private companies into branches of the government's police operations.

An article by David Kocieniewski in the New York Times, April 29, 1999, reported that "New Jersey Troopers Use Hotel Staff in Drug War." The article stated that New Jersey troopers are enlisting workers at hotels along the New Jersey Turnpike to tip them off about "suspicious" guests.

State troopers are paying hotel employees $1,000 to spy on their guests and anonymously snitch on them to the police. The hotels involved include major chains as the Hampton Inn, the Ramada Inn, and Holiday Inn. Under the state's "Hotel-Motel Program," troopers have been conducting "surveillance seminars" to recruit hotel employees to report on overnight guests who fit their "profile" of drug smugglers.

Like most drug-enforcement operations, the "profile" has a racial and ethnic component, which especially targets African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Indications of drug trafficking also include paying for a room with cash, receiving many phone calls, or pulling a trailer behind your vehicle. Perhaps those who inquire whether the hotel is spying on the guests would also be labeled as suspicious!

Hotel employees who observe such profiles are encouraged to call the police, who promise to protect the anonymity of the spy by making arrests off hotel property. If a tip from a desk clerk leads to a successful arrest, the police pay a $1,000 bounty.

This spy-on-your-guest program has been going on since the early 1990s, and is modeled after a similar program in Los Angeles and by some federal agencies. Commenting on the article in a press release of May 10, Steve Dasbach, national director of the American Libertarian Party, declared:

"Sadly, in America in 1999, police are constantly tracking, monitoring, and investigating innocent people -- even as they lay sleeping. Because of the War on Drugs ... and a casual disregard for our civil liberties, the No-Tell Motel has been turned into the No-Rights Motel."

In the old Soviet Union, the KGB, the government's spy operation, constantly monitored all the residents. One never knew who was spying on you - your employer, your neighbor, even your family. One had to assume that all telephone conversations were tapped and that there were listening devices in your home.

The United States is becoming more and more like the Soviet Union, with governments at all levels increasingly spying on citizens and using companies as snooping agents. Privacy is vanishing, and one can no longer trust companies such as banks or hotels to respect one's privacy and rights as a customer.

One may well call for reforms to reduce this intrusion, but the very logic of making substances such as drugs illegal, and of making every transaction a taxable event, leads to the logical conclusion of turning employers, companies, friends and family into spies for the government. That's because government must invade privacy to enforce these inherently intrusive laws.

To eradicate this government spying and prevent this tyranny from springing out again, a sweeping constitutional reform is needed. There should be constitutional amendments at both the federal and state levels that prohibit governments from restricting and taxing any peaceful and honest human action.

There is actually such an amendment in the Constitution of the USA, the 9th amendment recognizing rights even when not enumerated, but this amendment has been misunderstood and neglected. So to pull out the abuse of government power by the root and prevent this noxious weed from sprouting again, the Constitution must make it crystal clear that our natural right to engage in any peaceful and honest activity must be unrestricted and untaxed, and our privacy respected, notwithstanding any state interest. This would exclude taxes on labor and capital, leaving user fees and land rent, the latter being a result of the productivity of land rather than the specific activity engaged in by a person or enterprise.

Only then will we be able to check into a hotel and sleep in peace, without worrying that the hotel clerk or cleaning person is calling the police and fingering you as a suspicious person.

-- Fred Foldvary      


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Copyright 1999 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.