The looming civil-liberties battle

Planning for the next phase of the pandemic will also heighten concerns and conflict over civil liberties. Health policy leaders have outlined a way forward that relies on widespread testing and contact tracing as prerequisites for lifting state shutdowns. Many governors, including California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have expressed similar sentiments.

But think hard about the details. Testing may be mandatory. Contact tracing may mean government tracking of cellphone data. How much privacy are individuals willing to forfeit for a virus that increasingly appears to pose little danger to a large percentage of the U.S. population? We will soon learn the answer.

As a strategy, this approach is probably most viable in the workplace, where employers can compel employees to undergo testing and antibody screening. Outside the workplace, compliance will likely be low, which will allow the virus to continue to spread. As infections increase after the lockdown is lifted, many will call for restrictions to be reinstated. This will further inflame disputes. It takes little more than a basic understanding of U.S. history and human nature to know that these battles over liberty will neither be trivial nor easily quieted.