First, it is a reminder that not so long ago even practices as seemingly mild (at least from today's perspective) as mail covers and subpoenas of bank records could so alarm an establishment judge that she would equate them with the writs of assistance
and general warrants that impelled the Founding generation to revolution.
James Otis argued against general warrants and writs of assistance that were issued by British soldiers without judicial review and that did not name the subject or items to be searched.
Otis objected to these writs of assistance because they "placed the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.
Massachusetts began the revolt against general warrants and searches as it consistently clashed with Britain over excise searches and writs of assistance.
By 1700, writs of assistance were the predominate type of revenue search in Britain.
51) These writs of assistance did not grant the authority to search; "rather, they enabled customs officers to compel others--constables, local officials, or even private citizens to assist in carrying out the necessary searches and seizures.
197, 223-28 (1993) (arguing that the disputes over writs of assistance played an important role in colonial understanding of unreasonable searches and seizures).
For example, Thomas Hutchinson, a prominent defender of the writs of assistance
, served as the Massachusetts colony's lieutenant governor; but as president of the colony's Council, he was also the highest ranking legislator.
May it please your honors, I was desired by one of the court to look into the books, and consider the question now before them concerning writs of assistance
When our Founding Fathers wrote the Fourth Amendment to guard against the excesses they had suffered under the British writs of assistance
, they apparently feared that the government's potential to invade our privacy would never expire.
As Otis' able lieutenant, Adams was soon filling the local newspapers with information about threats to liberty on issues such as the Writs of Assistance