By banning unreasonable “seizures” of a person’s “papers,” the Fourth Amendment clearly protects what we today call “informational privacy.” Rather than seizing the private papers of individual citizens, the NSA and CFPB programs instead seize the records of the private communications companies with which citizens do business under contractual “terms of service.” These contracts do not authorize data-sharing with the government. Indeed, these private companies have insisted that they be compelled by statute and warrant to produce their records so as not to be accused of breaching their contracts and willingly betraying their customers’ trust.

As other legal scholars, most notably Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar, have pointed out, when the Fourth Amendment was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, government agents were liable for damages in civil tort actions for trespass. The Seventh Amendment preserved the right to have a jury composed of ordinary citizens pass upon the “reasonableness” of any searches or seizures. Because judges were not trusted to jealously guard the liberties of the people, the Fourth Amendment restricted the issuance of warrants to the heightened requirements of “probable cause” and specificity.

Over time, as law-enforcement agents were granted qualified immunity from civil suits, it fell mainly to judges to assess the “reasonableness” of a government search or seizure during a criminal prosecution, thereby undermining the original republican scheme of holding law enforcement accountable to citizen juries.