This Is NOT The New Normal

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wind down and businesses start reopening, we are still faced with overly oppressive restrictions on where we can go, what we can do and how many people can be in one place at a time. In many places, wearing facemasks (of highly questionable effectiveness) are mandated for anyone out in public, and businesses and houses of worship must collect information on people who enter for contact tracing. Politicians and the media now tell us this is the “new normal” until a cure can be found. In reality, it is nothing more than another way for tyrannically inclined politicians to control us, strip away our rights and make us more dependent on the government for our daily existence. 

In many parts of our country, it’s as if the Constitution and Bill of Rights has been shredded.  Mandatory Stay At Home orders, closing businesses, restricting the ability to travel outside of your own neighborhood, prohibiting the ability to practice your religion, associate freely with those you choose, the ability to protest your government and purchase a firearm or ammunition have been eliminated. 

Governors and local politicians have made winners and losers by deciding who is essential and who is not. Big box retailers are essential, mom & pop shops are not. Alcohol and marijuana retailers are essential, firearm retailers are not. Purchasing food at a grocery store is essential, growing your own food from seeds or fishing by yourself in a lake is not. 

When the pandemic closures began, the forecast for closing our country was two weeks, a month at the most to flatten the curve.  We are going on three months in many areas, with no end date in sight. In contrast to the need to “flatten the curve” before reopening the economy, we are now told it will not happen until there is a cure, an upgraded goal from having a vaccine available or the population developing “herd immunity”.  What is crystal clear is the politicians who are keeping their states, counties or cities closed are going to do everything they can to drag out the pain suffered by their constituents. 

So what are we supposed to expect in this so-called “new normal”, projected to be at least 12 to 18 months?  No gatherings of 100 persons or more, effectively eliminating sports, concerts and conferences. Dine-in restaurants, businesses and theaters will only be able to operate by restricting capacity to 25% to 50% to enforce social distancing.  Patrons will be required to have their temperature taken and provide identifying information for contact tracing in order to enter.  Schools, if allowed to reopen, will stagger the arrival and departure times throughout the day and dramatically restrict movement of students who will spend their class, lunch and recreation time in the same room with the same teacher. Airlines will screen all passenger’s temperature, block middle seats (unless it prevents the flight from being profitable) and may require “immunity passports” proving they have had and recovered from COVID-19, or have been administered the as of yet available vaccine. 

What I want to know is how exactly businesses that operate on small margins are going to be able to survive? We’ve already seen thousands of small, medium and large businesses across the nation close permanently due to the losses incurred from the economic shutdown while the big box retailers deemed essential and awarded a monopoly in their communities are thriving.  Millions of “non-essential” employees are out of work and now fully dependent on the government to pay their rent and feed their families. 

Consider also that health departments in about two thirds of the states are now sharing the addresses or names and addresses of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 with law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. While this would normally be considered a massive HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violation, “guidance” from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services simply dismisses this legal concern.  It’s amazing how many states have readily accepted this federal guidance yet ignored the Department of Homeland Security guidance on firearm retailers being essential. Nor is it a violation of your privacy for your cell phone company to provide tools to health departments to conduct “digital contact tracing” with or without your consent.  Snitch lines are available around the country so you can report your neighbors for not following social distancing guidelines. 

While the courts have been mixed in their reactions to challenges of the economic and social shutdowns, the people themselves have been making their objections extraordinarily clear. As I’m writing this, I’m seeing news feeds of citizens around the country exercising their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances, all in defiance of the oppressive and arbitrary closure orders in their area. The people are saying it is time to reopen the country and allow them to take care of their families themselves.  

I refuse to believe the way we are being forced to live is going to be the new normal. With every communicable disease from the common cold and flu to H1N1 (Swine Flu) of 2009, we have been able to effectively keep our country running and take care of our sick. Yet with COVID-19, we’ve been told our entire way of life must change for the foreseeable future. Or perhaps, if we vote ‘correctly’, it will only last until the elections are over.

It does NOT take increasingly draconian control measures from oppressively inclined government officials to keep you from passing on or catching COVID-19. The most basic level of personal responsibility, social distancing and sanitation, is enough to stop this, without giving up our rights. 

Bob

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Contact Tracing

As our nation begins to emerge from the overly hyped COVID-19 pandemic and businesses and recreational venues open, a new front in the fight against the virus is being touted, contact tracing. So critical is this new (basically really old) tool that it is now a requirement for many businesses and houses of worship to open. What is it? At the basic level it is interviewing infected persons to determine who they have been in contact with and getting assistance to those individuals.  If that was it, there wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, it is being taken to a frighteningly new electronic level using our own possessions against us.  Quite bluntly, this level of intrusion on our privacy scares the crap out of me. Once it’s an accepted practice during a pandemic, it will become accepted practice in everyday life. 

Contact tracing itself is an old concept. When someone is diagnosed with an infectious disease, health officials interview the person to determine who they have had contact with in order to get that person the appropriate medical treatment. Think the stereotypical VD (venereal disease) clinic diagnosis and telling the doctor all the people you’ve had sex with. Embarrassing yes, but it helps to stop the spread of the disease. 

To meet the needs for COVID-19, states have already hired thousands of new contact tracers with a projected goal of approximately 100,000 nationwide. This new army of public employees is tasked with tracing the movements and contacts of every individual diagnosed with COVID-19. 

If that was all there was to it, there wouldn’t be a problem. But as tyrannical governors, county, city and health officials around the country have learned, they can infringe on every one of your constitutionally protected rights under the pretext of a “health emergency”. As such, your privacy means absolutely nothing them.  

How they plan on achieving their contact tracing is where the privacy concerns begin. In some areas, a precondition to allowing businesses and houses of worship to open is mandatory recording of everyone who enters.  Name, address, phone number and email addresses must be recorded as well as the time they enter and leave. Houses of worship have been required to compile and turn over lists of all their members.  

For houses of worship, it’s easy to see how this information might be used to infringe on First Amendment rights. Even a cursory look at current events and history will show numerous abuses, suppression and elimination of those who hold certain religious views.  Beyond that, tracking customers of any business can not only lead to abuse but stymie businesses efforts to reopen as potential customers won’t want to give up their personal information just to purchase a product or meal. 

But even this isn’t enough. The CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) own guidance is that digital monitoring will be necessary.  The mechanism for this is already in place and simply needs to be enabled. It is of course, the smartphone.  

An estimated 81% of the US population owns a smartphone. Most smartphone users carry their devices with them 24/7, everyplace they go – including the bathroom. We wouldn’t dream of going to the store or even the mailbox without our phones.  Contrast this to a time when we used to drive across the country with nothing but a roll of dimes for payphones. 

Given this reality of our smartphone appendage, it’s easy to see how valuable they are as a tracking device. With GPS and Bluetooth features, your location and who you associated with can be determined anytime, anywhere.  Keep in mind, every byte of data about your location is recorded somewhere. A number of states have already tapped into these features to measure the effectiveness of their Stay At Home orders. While using supposedly anonymized data, they can see how many people are leaving their homes every day and how far they are going. Of course, knowing you left your home isn’t exactly randomized. 

But this new frontier in contact tracing isn’t using anonymized data, it’s looking directly at YOU and your movements.  Apple and Google, the largest providers of cell phones, have joined forces to modify their operating systems and infrastructure to allow digital contact tracing. New apps have been developed by government entities using the Apple and Google toolkits to allow individuals to track their own movements and proximity to other cell phone users. This is currently voluntary in the United States but mandatory in other countries.  Once someone is determined to be infected, it sets off a chain of notifications for anyone who has been near them.  Note that it will not be necessary to have a contact tracing app installed on your own smartphone for you to be tagged and notified of a potential infectious contact. 

Apple and Google have vowed that this is a temporary measure and will only be used for health purposes and for the duration of the pandemic. Once it is over, they have promised the infrastructure will be dismantled. Of course, we all know that no public emergency will ever be over and there will always be another ‘emergency’ down the road.

So what do the health authorities do when they identify a contact of someone who has tested positive?  If the system is working the way it should, medical assistance should be offered in case they are infected.  But that’s not exactly what is going on.  Mandatory testing and 14-day quarantine orders are made with the help of law enforcement and National Guard troops. 

Health departments around the country are constantly threatening and walking back claims they will remove infected individuals, adults or children, from their homes. So far, violators of quarantine orders have been arrested and incarcerated or fitted with tracking devices like common criminals. What we haven’t seen yet is what will happen to individuals who do not cooperate with testing or quarantine orders based solely on either manual or digital contact tracing. 

A look at how other countries are handing digital contact tracing and quarantining provides a glimpse into our future. Taiwan uses their telecom providers to track all those in quarantine and integrates it with their police systems to check if people are out of quarantine. Poland uses a mandatory smartphone app to track those in quarantine. 

China fits everyone coming into the country with a digital wristband and required smartphone app install to track their mandatory 14-day quarantine. China has recently added a color coded “health code” that must be scanned to allow access to public facilities or transit. The exact requirements for a green (likely COVID-19 free), yellow (at risk of COVID-19), or red (likely COVID-19 positive) have not been disclosed but are believed to incorporate the user’s location and their medical and travel history. 

What this boils down to is how much of our privacy, our basic natural rights, we are willing to give up in a health or other public emergency.  Our experiences so far with COVID-19 has shown a huge national tolerance for infringements on just about all our First Amendment, Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment protected rights.  But that tolerance has worn incredibly thin as the nation’s economy and way of life have been shut down for two months. 

If you believe the opinion polls, our nation’s population is equally split over the use of digital contact tracking. Even the CDC notes there will be resistance to this approach, but it may be more accepted in the future.  Personally, I disagree there is that much acceptance to 24/7 government tracking of every place we go and everyone we are in close proximity of. I see this as just another COVID-19 related excuse to infringe on the rights of American citizens. 

Our Constitution and Bill of Rights contain no provisions for suspension of rights in case of a “health crisis”.  If fact, our natural rights take on more significance as tyrannically inclined governments pick and choose what rights can be exercised, and whom among us are allowed to enjoy them. 

Bob

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