(WBIR) The Knoxville Police Department is discussing how a Supreme Court ruling meant to protect privacy rights could impact their investigations. Based on Wednesday's ruling, police now need a warrant to search a cellphone found on someone they arrest.
Currently, police can search a person under arrest and whatever physical items are within reach to find weapons and preserve evidence that might be destroyed.
But the recent Supreme Court ruling and a new Tennessee law will be changing the way those cellphones are searched. The Knoxville Police Department said the ruling doesn't come as any surprise.
"It really is a computer and it's no different than how we would treat a computer in a home. We would have to have a search warrant to go through it so we figured that this was coming," said KPD Chief David Rausch.
Chief Justice John Roberts told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, "Modern cellphones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse."
Justices acknowledged both a right to privacy and a need to investigate crimes while ruling on two cases from California and Massachusetts.
"The court is catching up with technology. The courts have held that cellphones are afforded the same right of privacy because they contain so much personal data of an individual," said Don Bosch, lawyer and Inside Tennessee panelist.
Knoxville Police said the department has been obtaining search warrants for cellphones for quite some time.
"Everything you get is what the court called in the past, the fruit from the forbidden tree. So you can't use it in court," said Chief Rausch.
If an officer pulls you over, Chief Justice Roberts said police still can examine "the physical aspects of a phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon." But once it is secured, he said, "data on the phone can endanger no one" and the arrested person will not be able to "delete incriminating data".
Police can take your phone into custody but can't go through the phone unless they have a warrant.
"Most pundits believe this is a good decision. A decision consistent with the constitutional protections that are afforded to citizens to be secure and safe in their property and their data," Bosch said.
The State of Tennessee has created a law extremely similar to the Supreme Court ruling that will go into effect on July 1.
"It clearly reflected our thoughts and what we thought the Supreme Court would rule. The law came through very similar to the ruling of the court and that is you need a search warrant to dig into a cellphone," said Chief Rausch.