Wednesday, in a unanimous vote, Supreme Court Justices decided officers must have a search warrant before searching through a person's phone.
This has been in place in Kansas for several years. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said it started with a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court decision.
Kansas V. Rupnick required law enforcement to get a search warrant before going through a person's computer, even if that person is under arrest.
"The idea is you shouldn't go into someone's home without a warrant because their entire life can be in their home," said Bennett. "Finding a computer in someone's home is like finding another home inside their home. A computer can contain everything about a person's life."
"My phone has more hard drive on it then my first computer did," said Bennett, holding up his cell phone. "We have taken the position that we'll treat cell phones like computer."
Bennett said it didn't take long for cell phones to become small computers.
"You can have your financial information, you have all of the pictures you've ever taken or that have been taken of you, it can have your personal thoughts, writings and diaries, it can have your Facebook posts," he said. "The position we've long taken is it's better to be conservative, get the warrant, rather than risk losing what can be terrifically important information."
If a judge finds that there should have been a search warrant before searching a computer or cell phone because of the 4th amendment to the constitution, they could throw out the evidence.
"As phones have evolved and technology has evolved we have to make sure to comply with the law and protect the rights of the citizens when it comes to their phones," said Lt. Dan East, Wichita Police Department. "We take it seriously for protecting that personal information. When a phone is needed for an investigation, we go through all the appropriate steps so we can obtain the information legally and we aren't worried about losing it."
Lt. East said the Wichita Police Department has asked for warrants before searching electronics like computers and phones for years, saying they are guided by the 4th amendment.
"I have every reason to believe the state of Kansas is on the leading edge of this and we've all been doing it the right way for some time," said Bennett.
He said there are always concerns that some data might be lost in the process of obtaining a search warrant, but said with the newer phones it's easier to get even that data through "cloud" sharing and the network provider. He said the quicker they can get the information, the better.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said modern cell phones "implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse." Roberts also said the decision will "have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime." Saying privacy comes at a cost.
The Supreme Court also noted, there are some emergency situations in which a search without a warrant would be permitted.