The US Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a police officer can not search the cell phones of criminal suspects upon arrest without first obtaining a search warrant.
The 9-0 vote ruled that smart phones and other electronic devices were not in the same category as wallets, briefcases, and vehicles, which are currently subject to limited initial examination by law enforcement.
Generally such searches are permitted if there is probable cause that a crime may have been committed, to ensure officers' safety and prevent destruction of evidence.
Before reaching their decision justices reviewed two cases involving cell phone searches. The San Diego Police were able to connect one man to a gang based on pictures stored on his cell phone, in one case and in another, a photo on a flip phone helped link the owner to a stash of crack cocaine.
In future cases, the officers will need a warrant to conduct searches like these, regardless of whether or not the cell phone is likely to contain evidence tying the suspect to the crime.