But he’s uneasy with where this logic takes him. “I myself am made somewhat uncomfortable by my own arguments,” he said, because of the potential for government officials and private companies to take advantage of the emergency, and for surveillance measures enacted in the name of fighting pandemics to be put to other uses. Since 9/11, for example, information acquired via surveillance on national-security grounds has been used to prosecute drug crimes, food-stamp and mortgage fraud, and lying on bank statements. Conversations recorded by an Amazon Echo and heart-rate data tracked by a Fitbit have been used in criminal investigations. “There really is such a thing as surveillance creep, and surveillance programs do tend to increase beyond their initial scope,” Rozenshtein said. “Pandemics, like other emergencies, have often been these catalyst moments for the permanent expansion of the government. And the government does not tend to shrink after the moment has passed.”

A key distinction between counterterrorism surveillance and measures designed to counter pandemics is the targets. The former is directed primarily at foreign nationals and organizations, whereas the latter would be trained specifically on Americans. That element of domestic surveillance is what most concerns Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who spent more than 15 years as a U.S. intelligence officer focused on counterterrorism. He told me that he’s open to the idea of expanded surveillance to fight the pandemic—but only if it’s conditioned on rigorous constraints and oversight. When I asked whether he thinks the U.S. government is capable of imposing these limits, he paused and sighed. “Look, it’s the nature of those who surveil to always want more,” he said. “And when we ask the government to surveil, we give it a mandate and we stoke that appetite.”