Ames Final Round Results:

Best Brief: Daniel J. Meltzer Memorial Team

Best Overall Team: Daniel J. Meltzer Memorial Team

Best Oralist: Amanda Mundell

The Teams:

The David J. Meltzer Memorial Team (Petitioner):

Connor Winn, Oralist
Benjamin Burkett
William Ferraro
Luke Beasley
Amanda Mundell, Oralist
Trenton Van Oss

The Lucy Stone Memorial Team (Respondent):

Michelle Adler
Victoria Hartmann
Helen Rave
Caroline Trusty, Oralist
Stefanie Tubbs
Mengjie Zou, Oralist

The Bench:

The Honorable John Paul Stevens
Associate Justice (Ret.)
Supreme Court of the United States

The Honorable David J. Barron
United States Court of Appeals
First Circuit

The Honorable Alison J. Nathan
United States District Court
Southern District of New York

The Case:

United States v. Papaya Cellular

Between October 2015 and March 2016, residents of Ames suffered three deadly bombings at a night club, ice skating rink, and middle school.  A terrorist organization calling itself “Redemption” claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened additional acts of violence within Ames.  FBI investigators subsequently received an anonymous tip identifying an individual (known as “John Doe” because his name is redacted in public filings) as a member of Redemption and the person who possibly placed the bomb at one or more of the crime scenes.   In response to the tip, the government filed an application under the Stored Communications Act for an order directing Doe’s cell phone provider, Papaya Cellular, to disclose Doe’s cell site location information for a six-month period spanning the time of the terrorist attacks.  In its application, the government said that the location data—which is generated any time a subscriber uses his phone to make or receive a call, send or receive a text, or access any application requiring cellular data—could help confirm Doe’s location during the bombings and reveal other pertinent information about his and others’ involvement in the deadly attacks.  The district court initially ordered Papaya to disclose the cell site location records.

Papaya moved to quash that order.  As its CEO averred, its business model is built around protecting its subscribers’ privacy.  To that end, Papaya uses proprietary encryption software to aggregate all subscriber information for each cell site and strip it of individualized data that can be used to track the movements, habits, and personal lives of its subscribers.  The district court had ordered Papaya to write software to disaggregate Doe’s records from other subscribers’ data.  Papaya argued that compliance with that order would constitute an “undue burden” under the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d), because it would harm Papaya’s privacy-focused business model, undermine Papaya’s encryption technology, and violate Papaya’s First Amendment right not to engage in the expressive act of writing software.  Papaya also argued that compliance with the court’s order would violate the Fourth Amendment by permitting the government to conduct an unreasonable, warrantless search without probable cause.

The district court granted Papaya’s motion to quash, and the Ames Circuit affirmed.  The court of appeals held that compliance with the order would constitute an “undue burden” within the meaning of Section 2703(d) and would violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court granted review on the following two questions:

1.      Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that it would cause an “undue burden” on Papaya Cellular, within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), to require it to write software to override its encryption technology and disaggregate a particular subscriber’s historical cell site information to assist in an ongoing terrorism investigation.

2.      Whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that disclosure of the historical cell site information would violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Record:

Joint Appendix

The Briefs:

Opening Brief for the United States (The David J. Meltzer Memorial Team)

Respondent Brief for Papaya Cellular (The Lucy Stone Memorial Team)

Reply Brief

 The Liveblog: