Coronavirus (COVID-19), and our responses to it, have changed much more than our social distancing practices. They’re distancing us from our societal practices of sovereign rights, or at least they will if we allow this to continue.
Yes, while we are all anxious to restore some modicum of life, work, social, and economic normalcy as rapidly as possible, most of us also recognize that we also share societal responsibility to temporarily subordinate some individual liberties to achieve a greater good that serves all of us.
If this smacks scarily like something coming from the grinning lips of Karl Marx, make no mistake about it. When we forget to be frightened about this, we’re headed for far worse and eternal danger than just from the virus — that "cure worse than disease" syndrome.
To be clear, I attribute no overt social engineering nor control motives to tough love federal, state, and local government actions that have been enacted to staunch the spread of this pathogenic biological menace. Nor do I advocate civil disobedience as a first line of defense against policies many have excellent reasons to disagree with.
Having said this, let’s also recognize that our rights are precariously balanced at the precipice of a very slippery slope. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress . . . "
Peaceful citizens lawfully assembled at about half of all American statehouses or governors’ residences last week petitioning their elected representatives to roll back what they regarded to be excessively restrictive quarantine and business shutdown rulings.
Many of those who participated were desperately impacted owners and employees of small enterprises following a record-shattering month when 22 million former workers sought unemployment benefits.
Forbes writer Simon Chandler warned in a March 23 opinion piece, "Coronavirus Could Infect Privacy and Civil Liberties Forever," that the coronavirus pandemic serves as a massive testbed for new, much more large-scale forms of surveillance.
Chandler notes that governments in Italy, Germany, Austria, China, South Korea and Taiwan have already begun analyzing smartphone data to determine to the extent populations are locking themselves down at home.
Taiwan’s "electric fence" allows local police to call everyone who is at home under quarantine. If no answer, or the phone is out of power, they can enter the residence within 15 minutes.
A South Korean government website constantly tracks movements of people who have tested positive. It then issues mobile phone alerts to others in the geographic vicinity.
The Israeli government has access to an archive of phone data that enables observers to map movements of infected people. It then alerts those who have been in contact with them to self-isolate.
The U.K. and the U.S. are close to rolling out similarly invasive social behavior surveillance measures. The Guardian recently reported that the British government has secretly negotiated with mobile operators to use anonymized mobile location data to track movements of individuals and groups.
The U.S. government likely hasn’t yet pursued prospects for mapping the locations of large population segments, due in part, because there is no central data base. The data needed to accomplish this is in the hands of private companies — such as wireless carriers and a network of companies that track locations of app users to sell the data for marketing purposes.
Nevertheless, technology has provided Big Brother with devices for ever-enhanced watchful eyesight. Fox News has reported that robotic spy drones donated by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) a company with ties to the Chinese, government, to 43 law enforcement agencies in 22 states to help ensure social distancing rules in tight places where police cars can’t access.
We can be certain of its proven performance.
The technology has seen extensive use in surveilling Chinese citizens.
The good news is that the biological pandemic will not be an endless war. Once there is a treatment or a vaccine, the state of emergency will be over.
Less certain, is whether we will ever fully recover from even more dangerous pathogenic societal side effects of a plague of policy precedents that will forever infect our cherished privacy and amputate guaranteed civil freedoms.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including "Cyberwarfare: Targeting America, Our Infrastructure, and Our Future" (2020), "The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives" (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful" (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.
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