In 1817, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We are now in a global crisis that puts this mantra into stark relief. In the name of preventing the spread of the virus massive quarantines are being enacted all over the world with many countries enforcing it with the army, police and huge fines. But quarantine isn’t the only threat to liberty in these times in the UK, private companies are working with the NHS (National Health Service) are gaining access to domestic health records to develop a data analytics platform while multiple countries are experimenting with or deploying cellphone tracking to help control virus spread while US and Chinese tech companies are exploring a massive release of their users location data. Meanwhile in Europe, America and Australia many countries are only just starting to recommend their citizens go into self quarantine.
The most extreme response is in China where the outbreak originated, where CCTV has been installed outside the homes of infected individuals and remotely piloted drones warn people to wear masks and stay inside. But Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea have also implemented similarly extreme forms of data tracking.
The data, assuming it’s accurate, speaks for itself though. China and South Korea have seen a massive drop in new infection rates. As a necessary cost for preventing mass deaths due to Coronavirus, health professionals are recommending that our liberty must be temporarily reduced. We cannot be free if we are dead. Virginia Woolf said it best. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Our minds must be more free and vigilant than ever in monitoring for tyranny.