The news whiplash that is 2020 whiplashed us again when President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19, and hours later, was dramatically helicoptered to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for hospitalization. Even in a country bludgeoned by bad news since January, this seemed like flagrant overkill.
There is danger here, and not just for the president. Regardless of what the next few weeks hold for him—and by extension, for the country—we cannot let our understandable fear of disease enable the establishment of medical authoritarianism. And make no mistake. Powerful forces would readily use COVID-19 as the pretext to corrode liberty and impose a technocratic state upon us in which “experts” decide what we can do, as well as when and how we do it.
Such authoritarian strictures have already been constructed in Asia. Last month, Verisk Maplecroft, an international global risk and strategic consulting firm, issued “Human Rights Outlook 2020,” a disturbing report warning against a growing trend of governments justifying “mass surveillance” of citizens and businesses to fight COVID-19, which, the report cautions, they “are unlikely to relinquish once the health crisis recedes.”
Unsurprisingly, China led the pack: An app downloaded on phones to track the coronavirus is being made a permanent fixture of the state’s ongoing system of mass surveillance of the Chinese people—potentially giving the government “unrestricted access to personal data linked to location, medical history, and other sensitive information.”
China’s communist tyrants utilizing the threat of disease as a pretext to stifle liberty is hardly surprising. But India?
Alas, the world’s most populous democracy has joined the medical authoritarian parade. The report states, “India is the only democracy that has made the downloading of a COVID tracking app mandatory, or face threat of jail or fines.”
How does the government intend to force compliance on its over 1 billion population? By harnessing the private sector, requiring all “employees in India to download the government tracking app before returning to work.”
Similar plans are afoot in the West. For example, New York, New Jersey, and a few other states have developed contact-tracing apps available for free download that alert owners if they have been within six feet of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 for more than 10 minutes who also uses the app.
The good news is that the program is voluntary. Moreover, the governments promise that the system does not track users’ locations with GPS nor store their data—which is fine, I guess, for those so afraid of getting sick they are willing to sacrifice their privacy.
But watch out. Seemingly benign systems of government intrusion easily become launching pads for profound abuses of civil liberties. If you doubt that, look at how the FISA court process was abused egregiously by the FBI and Department of Justice against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and, through him, all of his contacts and the contacts of his contacts.
Indeed, there have already been calls in bioethics for the West to mandate contact tracing through apps. For example, a recent article in Oxford’s influential bioethics journal Practical Ethics.
Many may be tempted to wave away such concerns in the belief that an app mandate would face stiff popular resistance. I hope so. But I don’t believe a legal mandate would be required to coerce many of us to “voluntarily” go along.
What would happen, for example, if the private sector enacted policies requiring people to prove they have the app on their phones before entering business establishments or going to work—in the same way they now require us to wear masks in such circumstances? Wouldn’t that be the logical next step if public health officials decreed app contact tracing a public health necessity?
Beyond the app question, influential would-be technocrats are already calling for restricting a broad array of civil liberties in the name of promoting wellness:
- Joe Biden’s COVID-19 health care adviser, bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, is the lead signatory on a letter demanding a second and more all-encompassing societal shutdown, writing: “Non-essential businesses should be closed. Restaurant service should be limited to take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air. Masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others. … You should bar non-essential interstate travel.” That would be an even more stifling restriction than Lincoln imposed during the Civil War!
- There is an intensifying drive underway for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. How would we all be forced to be inoculated? Again, via the private sector, as three prominent bioethicists explained in USA Today: “Private businesses could refuse to employ or serve unvaccinated individuals. Schools could refuse to allow unimmunized children to attend classes. Public and commercial transit companies—airlines, trains, and buses—could exclude refusers. Public and private auditoriums could require evidence of immunization for entry.” Show us your vaccination papers! Good grief.
- Most Draconian of all, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, declared in Cell, a prestigious science journal, that the threat of post-COVID pandemics is so dire that it requires the mind-boggling task of empowering the international community to “rebuild the infrastructure of human existence … from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational gathering.” Pursuing such a course would require nothing less than establishing a world-government style international technocracy.
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the great Soviet dissident, once wrote relevantly to our current moment, “Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?” Mandates of the type described above are for cowardly people. We should not go down that road.
Of course, this does not mean acting recklessly. Liberty comes with responsibility, and we are all morally bound to engage in proper public health measures to protect ourselves, our families, loved ones, friends, and the greater community.
But in this crisis, let us not shrink from living fully as free men and women. The very real threat of serious disease does not justify imposing a technocratic authoritarianism that would be easy to commence but almost impossible to reverse.
Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and author of “Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.