Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Good Faith Exception Applies to pre-Carpenter Seizures of Cell Site Location Information (CSLI) Under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).


             Appellant Jay Goldstein had moved to suppress cell site location information (CSLI), in the District Court, arguing a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights because the information was obtained without a warrant.   The District Court denied the motion finding the information was lawfully obtained under the Stored Communications Act (SCA),  18 U.S.C. § 2703 (d), which does not require a showing of probable cause, but only a lower standard of “specific and articulable facts” showing that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought was “relevant and material” to the underlying investigation.  The Third Circuit initially affirmed the decision pursuant to prevailing circuit case law that held a defendant did not have a privacy interest in CSLI and therefore the government did not need to establish probable cause before gathering the information.  Then, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), which held that defendants do have a privacy interest in their CSLI and a warrant based on probable cause is needed prior to seizing this type of data, the Third Circuit granted Appellant’s petition for rehearing.  The Third Circuit held as follows in United States v. Goldstein, 914 F.3d 200 (3d Cir. 2019).   

                First, the Third Circuit ruled that the government did violate Appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights, as explained by Carpenter, by seizing the information without a warrant.  However, the appellate court again affirmed the District Court’s decision under the good faith exception.  Specifically, the government seized the information under a court order that was lawful at the time it was issued and was consistent with prevailing federal appellate precedent.  The holding in Goldstein is consistent with other circuits that have found the good faith exception applies to data seized under the SCA before the decision in Carpenter.

                Notably, the Third Circuit rejected the argument that the good faith exception applies only to the actions of law enforcement.  The Court explicitly held that the rule also applies to government attorneys and any “state actors” that proceed under the reasonable good faith belief that their conduct is lawful. 

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