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Coronavirus and Civil Liberties

Federal, state, and local governments have the legal power to respond to the pandemic to save lives and stop its spread, but they must do so responsibly while taking our civil liberties into account.

Published: April 3, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is a true emergency. Americans are counting on government officials—federal, state, and local—to do whatever is in their power to save lives and mitigate harm. In such situations, governments might need to take extraordinary action that would be inappropriate under normal circumstances—including actions that affect Americans’ civil liberties.

But history also teaches that governments can overreact, imposing measures that are unnecessary or that sweep too broadly. Moreover, actions that might be appropriate in the midst of crisis can become entrenched as permanent fixtures of government policy. And governments can exploit crises to enhance their own power or to justify acting outside the law.

The Brennan Center supports the responsible use of emergency powers and other legal authorities necessary to effectively combat the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, we are working to ensure that the government’s responses do not go beyond what the law allows, and that any effect on civil liberties is no greater than needed to address the crisis at hand.