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Assessing Emergency Responses that Affect Civil Liberties

To address the novel coronavirus outbreak, governments across the country and the globe might need to implement measures that would be inappropriate during ordinary times. But that does not mean we must blindly accept any encroachment on our rights and freedoms.

Last Updated: April 7, 2020
Published: April 2, 2020

During a crisis, it might be neces­sary for govern­ment offi­cials to imple­ment meas­ures that would be inap­pro­pri­ate during ordin­ary times—in­clud­ing meas­ures that affect civil liber­ties. But that does not mean we must blindly accept any encroach­ment on our rights and freedoms as neces­sary. Indeed, emer­gen­cies provide fertile grounds for govern­ments to expand their powers in ways that are often unne­ces­sary or danger­ous.

When govern­ment offi­cials—whether federal, state, or local—­take steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic that impinge on civil liber­ties, how should we assess those actions? The flow chart below offers some basic, general ques­tions that can help in determ­in­ing whether the govern­ment’s action is reas­on­able and neces­sary, whether it raises concerns (and there­fore requires close vigil­ance), or whether it simply should not be under­taken.

Civil Liberties FLowchart