By Stephen Rex Brown
A Manhattan Federal judge ruled Thursday that Airbnb does not have to turn over data on its hosts to New York City authorities.
Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote that a new law requiring Airbnb to turn over hosts' information starting Feb. 2 should not go into effect because it potentially violates the Fourth Amendment protecting against unlawful search or seizure.
"The compelled production from home-sharing platforms of user records is an event that implicates the Fourth Amendment," Engelmayer wrote in a 52-page decision.
Mayor de Blasio signed the bill seeking to crack down on Airbnb in August, saying it would help address illegal hotel operators who are reducing affordable housing.
The new law required Airbnb to hand over the names and addresses of its hosts in the city on a monthly basis. Many hosts would likely be exposed to fines for listing their entire apartments for stays of fewer than 30 days, which violates state law.
"The decision today is a huge win for Airbnb and its users, including the thousands of New Yorkers at risk of illegal surveillance who use Airbnb to help make ends meet. The court today recognized the fundamental importance of New Yorkers' constitutional rights to privacy and the sanctity of their own homes," Airbnb said in a statement.
The stakes for Airbnb are enormous. Engelmayer noted in his ruling that if the law had been in effect in 2016, the company would have faced fines over $1 billion.
Further litigation will determine whether Engelmayer's injunction blocking the law should become permanent. He wrote that he was unpersuaded by the city's argument that the hotel industry -- including home-shares -- needed strict regulation.
Legal precedent allowed for tight regulation of other types of industries like mining, firearms, liquor, and junkyards, he noted.
"The hotel industry does not involve inherently dangerous operations or have a history of pervasive regulation," Engelmayer wrote.
Mayor de Blasio said the city would continue defending the law.
"The law is pointed at a real problem and we think it's a good law. So you know, when a judge does a temporary injunction there's still a whole lot of legal process to be had and we believe we'll ultimately prevail," he said.
"We have a huge city with a lot of Airbnb activity and a lot of concern in our neighborhoods and unfortunately a lot of examples of abuse. And to put a strong data regimen in place made all the sense in the world."
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