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Authoritarians are getting everything they want because of the coronavirus crisis

As we coordinate all of our efforts to fight this scourge, authoritarians rejoice at the measures being enacted to control populations and manage citizens.
Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson Montreal, QC

According to The Verge, "Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations."

On Friday, America’s top virus doctor seemingly endorsed the idea of “Americans carrying certificates of immunity to prove they have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.” Dr. Anthony Fauci also recently floated the idea of doing away with the custom of handshakes after the coronavirus outbreak is over. In a world where all things were even, he wouldn’t have a say on which social customs we decide to practice. And he shouldn’t.

In Canada, it’s been announced that the police will be visiting the homes of citizens to enforce the Quarantine Act. Jail time and a fine of up to $1 million may result if citizens do not obey the guidance of the government. RCMP are turning into a roving force to police those who are under quarantine orders and make sure they are in their place.

On the small scale, we’ve seen church leaders, solo joggers, and even old ladies get busted by law enforcement for failing to adhere to social distancing. At the same time, violent criminals have been released in the name of coronavirus safety. Neighbours turn on neighbours, and spew vitriol at one another in the streets for lack of compliance.

Google has already given over cell phone tracking data and made it available for use by government agents. In South Korea, Germany, and Hungary, to name a few, tech is being used not only to monitor citizens movements but to get citizens to monitor themselves and report their movements back to authorities.

This is unacceptable. Our tech companies have denied government access to their records and data for criminal investigation, but are now perfectly willing to turn over data on innocent citizens so that they can be tracked and organized by body temp and location. Movements are monetized in the fight against coronavirus, and just as the public would be loath to allow such a thing in non pandemic times, they should not stand for it now.

As we coordinate all of our efforts to fight this scourge, authoritarians rejoice at the measures being enacted to control populations and manage citizens. Never, under any other circumstances, would individuals of free nations submit to this kind of shocking totalitarian overreach into their daily lives. If we would not comply then, we cannot comply now. There are fates worse than death, and the loss of civil liberties is one of them.

While it is essential that we rally our resources to defeat this viral spread, the fact is that contagion is with us always. There are perpetual existential threats to human life, and they cannot and should not be used to defeat our rights to free speech, free assembly, free press, and all the rest. These are essential to life, and regardless of the threat, they must not be given over to government authority. In the short term, a suspension of some rights is reasonable. Social distancing should be practiced. The spread must be slowed and the curve must be flattened. But these legally enacted limits on our basic rights must come with a sunset clause; they cannot be allowed to stand.

In many ways, our rights are not ours to give away. They are inalienable. They are sovereign. This is why we fight for them. Rights are not merely a privilege but a responsibility. We cannot sit here in our homes under self-isolation recommendations and let our rights fizzle into the air for our own protection. Wear a mask, make use of hand-sanitizer, be mindful, keep your distance, do what you think is best, yes, but do not let your rights slip into the ether.

If we give them away now, under the guise of it being for our own good, and for the greater good, we will not get them back. Many leaders would rejoice at depriving citizens of their rights. And once the technology is in place for our leaders to track and control us, and we have assented to it, then there is no way out of that level of state control. Leaders do not willingly give up supremacy.

The overreach is already all around us. Pay close attention to those in power who are currently salivating over the potential for more power. When the experts we turn to and trust in times of crisis like this begin talking about long-term changes to the individual liberties we enjoy and the democratic culture we cherish, we must resist these overtures. We need to remember the names of those who want to track us and limit our freedoms. They must never be given the power they crave.

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Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson
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