Many cities across the country are struggling with issues surrounding short-term vacation rentals and how they affect the availability and price of housing for local residents. However, New York City’s latest ordinance aimed at regulating home-sharing platforms is an extraordinary governmental overreach with invasive privacy ramifications, and EFF is fighting back.
The Short-Term Residential Ordinance is aimed at blocking the operation of illegal hotels. It compels services like Airbnb and HomeAway to disclose the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and other personal and financial information of all short-term hosts, along with the number of days their home was rented. That’s not just once, that’s monthly, in perpetuity. Taken all together, this sensitive information it can reveal patterns of home life and vacations, among other private details. Additionally, there are no safeguards in the law for protecting all of this data, and there are no limitations on how it can be used. And the ordinance is for all hosts who use home-sharing platforms, not just the ones who break the law.
Airbnb and Homeaway recently filed lawsuits against the city of New York, asking that officials be enjoined from enforcing the ordinance. This week, EFF filed an amicus brief in support of that request for a permanent injunction, arguing that the data collection violates the protections set out by Congress in the Stored Communications Act and is an unconstitutional warrantless search on the government’s behalf. We all have a Fourth Amendment right to protect our private lives—particularly our home lives—and requiring businesses to release this data to the city violates that right.
With this ordinance, New York tried to circumvent the constitutional issue by mandating that the home-sharing platforms to obtain hosts’ consent to release their data to the city. But you can’t use a Terms of Service to get people to sign away their constitutional rights. Companies draft terms of service to govern how their platforms may be used; these are rules about the relationship between you and your ISP—not you and your government. It’s essential that senstive information is not disclosed to the government without any allegation of wrongdoing. We hope the court agrees.