A landmark Supreme Court decision was handed down Wednesday that limits law enforcement's right to search cell phones. Legal experts says it's a significant decision in favor of digital privacy.
"As technology has gone farther and farther, the reach of government has gone deeper and deeper," said Law Professor Byron Warnken.
Warnken says the Supreme Court's ruling is a wake up call, explaining we need to update our laws to keep up with the digital age. Wednesday’s decision means in most cases police will need a warrant to search the cell phone or mobile technology of someone who has been arrested.
"You're going to have to justify what it is you think is in there that supports why you were arrested," Warnken said. "People have their entire lives on that little bitty device."
Up until now, smartphones fell under an exception to the Fourth Amendment that allowed law enforcement to go through the devices. Some opposed to the change say it's a blow to police departments, arguing it will now be harder for officers to fight crime. Anne Arundel County Police Lieutenant T.J. Smith does not agree.
"Of course you don't have that immediacy any longer, but that doesn't stop that if you know there's something of evidentiary value that you can still get it, it might take you an extra hour to get it, but you can still get it."
He explains, if you're locked up, your phone can be seized until investigators get the warrant. It's just an extra step that ensures police have probable cause to access your device.
"Our job is to uphold the constitution, and the Fourth Amendment is part of that constitution, this just ensures a person's right to privacy," Smith said.
Experts tell ABC 2 News the ruling could set a new standard for privacy cases in the future.
"It's going to cause courts to walk, to tread slowly in other related areas," said Warnken.
The Supreme Court's decision stems from two cases where people were convicted of crimes based on information found on their cell phones during initial searches after they were arrested.