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Clyde Lewis | May 1, 2020
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During the Cold War, one of the most hated enforcers of East German communist law were the Stasi.

To maintain power for 40 years while their people starved and plotted to escape, the Communist Party had to get very good at controlling people and undermining anti-state activists. But outright street violence and assassinations weren’t good for the Party image, so the Ministry for State Security got creative. 

The Stasi’s sole function was to keep the Communist Party in power. They didn’t care how.

The Stasi were prolific gaslighters. In the 1950s, repression was brutal, physical torture. Early in the 1970s, eager to be accepted on the international stage, the East German Secret Police had to get more subtle.

Their job was to enforce arbitrary laws that were put in place to protect the Communist iron-fisted rule. They job was to switch off dissent—the way they did it sounds like a few things that are now being proposed because of COVID-19.

Police collected medical, school, and police records, interviews with neighbors and relatives, and any other evidence they could get and would then customize a direct hit on an individual’s mental health.

They offered rewards to people who would snitch on their neighbor.

If someone looked like he might challenge the Communist Party’s legitimacy or control, the Stasi systematically destroyed his life. They used blackmail, social shame, threats, and torture. Careers, reputations, relationships, and lives were exploded to destabilize and delegitimize a critic.

Some forms of harassment were almost comical: agents spread rumors about their targets, flooded their mailboxes with pornography, moved things around in their apartments, or deflated their bicycle tires day after day. Others were life-altering: Individuals labeled as subversives were banned from higher education, forced into unemployment, and forcibly committed to asylums. Many suffered long-term psychological trauma, loss of earnings, and intense social shame as a result of Stasi.

Today, there are social credit systems in China that enforce the same type of activity that is similar to the Stasi.

The United States is now starting to recruit the new Stasi in order to somehow curtail the spread of COVID-19.

There is a group called “Partners in Health” that are claiming on their website that “Injustice has a cure” and that is a worldwide response of Contact Tracers, Resource Coordinators and Case Investigators that will pay you a visit in order to secure those who wish to violate the arbitrary laws being proposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

What they say they are and what they appear to be are younger version of the Stasi police.

But why are they needed? Is this is supposed to be temporary and even if it lasts– do we really need these draconian measured for a virus that now shows a 98% recovery rate in people that are healthy and able to bring things back to normal?

Someone needs to speak up – and they need to do so in order to expose how governments and organizations are no longer concerned with the spread of the virus – they are more concerned with exploiting it for profit and to take away human rights.

I had a somewhat heated discussion today with a friend about how states including min were reopening and how they were coming up with some of the most outrageous proposals that they believe will somehow stop the spread of COVID-19.

I told her that I read about some of these proposals that were leaked to the Press for the state of Oregon and that I was curious as to why certain ones were included that I felt really did not mean anything of consequence –especially in combating the spread of COVID-19.

Here in my state, a local news affiliate obtained draft proposals that would be enforced as we slowly reopen the state. These leaks were allegedly part of what our governor was supposed to report during a news conference.

For restaurants, it was proposed that any tables must be spaced 6 feet apart. They would also need to keep capacity at 50% of normal.

Groups dining at the restaurant would have to be limited to ten or fewer people.

Any self-serve buffets, salad bars, soda machines or growler pouring stations would be banned. People can only use single-serving packets of sauces, pepper and salt, and any condiment containers would have to be sterilized between customers.

The changes also state that all on-site consumption – including alcohol sales – has to wrap up by 10 p.m., changing the times for “last call” for bars.

While I understand that they still have their ideas of pushing social distancing, I did not understand how having last call for alcohol at 10 pm stops the spread of coronavirus.

If you shop in a store customer must keep six feet of distance from each other while inside the store. Stores should also have signs encouraging their customers to maintain six feet for social distancing.

All stores would need to install clear plastic barriers in front of the cash register before reopening. Stores might also be asked to encourage one-way shopping flows with marked signs on the floors.

Again we have seen how social distancing has flattened the curve, we can understand putting plastic barriers between the customer and the workers but how does one way shopping arrows and marked one way exits and entrance stop the spread of coronavirus?

Now, mind you many will these small inconveniences as really nothing to get worked up over but there are other so called proposals being enforced that again to not stop the spread of corona virus.

Police departments are harassing people with drones. Protesting has been called non-essential by law makers.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed five pieces of gun control legislation into law that were passed in the 2020 session of the General Assembly, including the so-called “red flag law” and the reinstatement of the one-handgun-a-month policy. The Governor used the pandemic as an excuse to implement these new laws.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is already being sued fro her draconian proposals that have been enforced there.

Residents are prohibited from traveling between homes — even family members’ homes, or one’s own second home.

In the state famous for its Great Lakes and more than 11,000 inland lakes, operating motor boats or jet-skis, even by oneself, has been outlawed although boats without motors are still allowed on lakes.

In Michigan big retail stores can stay open, but they can’t sell certain things. They can’t sell carpet or furniture. Now how does this stop the spread of COVID-19. She won’t allow the sale of paint.

Buying seeds in a store to grown one’s own food, or paint for home repairs, is illegal but Michiganders can still legally purchase alcohol, marijuana, and lottery tickets, which have been deemed “essential.”

A paddle boarder was chased down in California by law enforcement in Malibu. He was more than 6 feet from anyone and yet he was still arrested.

In Salinas, California, people were fined 1000 dollars for sitting in their cars watching the sunset. They were inside their cars not endangering anyone.

The police claim that they are demanding compliance because they are saving lives.

Now, in all seriousness do we actually believe this?

Law enforcement and governors are now doing crazy things and they refuse to let life happen. They are now using COVID-19 as an excuse and there is no proof that much of their arbitrary measures are saving lives.

In California, they are charging people with misdemeanors and are shutting off water and power to businesses and homes.

Leaders are supposed to serve us—police to serve and protect – not muscle us like the Stasi of the eastern bloc countries during the Cold War.

In early April, we noted how one supermarket in Philadelphia took sanitizing to an entirely new level by dunking shopping carts into large vats of disinfectants to give customers the peace of mind that they won’t contract the deadly virus. In post-corona times, social distancing will forever change how businesses operate and how people interact in an economy.

Take, for example, another supermarket in Philadelphia has installed “tent-like plastic enclosures” around cashier booths to keep essential workers safe while interacting with customers at checkout lines.

Supermarkets across the country have imposed new measures to protect employees and customers. Many stores are now requiring anyone in the facility to wear a mask. 

Now, wouldn’t it be wise to restructure the model in order to expand delivery services to those who do not want to step foot in a store?

Much of what we are seeing now is overreach, security theater, and arbitrary.

When proposals like these are made and enforced you have to ask how any of these measures truly prevent the spread of coronavirus.

No one is asking that we endanger lives – we need to really stop and ask ourselves – why are we doing these things when we have no proof that what we are doing is even helping matters.

After some research I have learned that leaders have to prove that the proposals they are enforcing have to show some semblance of scientific proof that they will contribute to stopping the spread or COVID-19 – otherwise they are violating human rights.

Of course businesses can choose to do whatever they wish – but strict proposals that are being changed into laws for the convenience of political agenda without proof that they are protecting the public health are in violation of basic human rights.

The public has a right to protest, and to draw up lawsuits with the help of the ACLU if necessary to shut down the new normal in favor of normal activities that do not harm the health of the citizenry.

It has already been proven in the past that governments and security agencies find emergency powers attractive, because they create short-cuts. States might exploit trends of insecurity, vulnerability, and risk, to keep, on a persistent and permanent basis, their emergency powers. We have seen this happening with counterterrorism responses, where exceptional powers to restrict people’s rights and freedoms have been normalized and the general public has been led to accept it. In the case of COVID-19, States might be even more tempted to do so considering that COVID-19 might become a “permanent part of repertoire of human viruses” at least till there is likely to be a vaccine or a cure.

The protection of human rights is not a luxury that can be granted only when there are no other public interests at stake. The international framework on human rights provides a series of safeguards and guarantees that States must respect even when they have legitimate reasons to limit these rights. 

Electronic Contact Tracing has also been proposed and will be enforced and Apple and Google are ready to step up in creating a way to track citizens and who they come in contact with.

The question is – is there any proof that this will help in stopping the spread of COVID-19?

This has to be proven – or there at least has to be probable cause as to why they are considering violating privacy rights.

No contact tracing app can be fully effective until there is widespread, free, and quick testing and equitable access to health care. These systems also can’t be effective if people don’t trust them. People will only trust these systems if they protect privacy, remain voluntary, and store data on an individual’s device, not a centralized repository. 

At the same time, we must be realistic that such contact tracing methods are likely to exclude many vulnerable members of society who lack access to technology and are already being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 is leading many States to use emergency powers to attempt to tackle the crisis, limit the virus’ transmission, and protect the public. While the pandemic requires strong responses, we need to ensure that States do not normalize oppressive surveillance and undermine human rights more widely, including the right to freedom of expression and information and the right to privacy.

The outbreak has triggered the declaration of a state of emergency in many countries, opening the door for governments to exercise extraordinary powers. Many States’ interventions, ostensibly to control the spread of the virus, have and will continue to have an enormous impact on people’s human rights.

Quarantines inevitably limit people’s freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. But some governments are also deploying apps and other technological tools to surveil people’s movement, and their contacts with others, in order to be able to reconstruct, and block, transmission chains.

There is no proof that any of this surveillance will stop the spread of even prevent COVID-19 from infecting more people.

This is just security theater being used to violate human rights.

This kind of security theater does not stop diseases from spreading and it is not necessary.

For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that technology used to tackle terrorism could be used to track and monitor the spread of the virus. After being petitioned by civil rights advocates and Arab lawmakers, Israel’s Supreme Court stepped in to ensure parliament could set up a supervision mechanism. The Chinese government, in cooperation with the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, launched a “close contact detector” app that allows people to check whether they have been at risk of catching the coronavirus. In South Korea, several coronavirus apps allow people to monitor the number of confirmed COVID-19 patients and their movement.

In the United States, the private company Athena Security is launching “artificially intelligent thermal cameras” that it says can detect fever in people, as well as alerts that they might have coronavirus. These would be used in public and private spaces alike, such as hospitals or grocery stores. Also, the New Orleans emergency services started to use mobile phone surveillance tools, developed partially by former members of Israel’s military intelligence, to “identify situations where they’ll be at high risk of contagion from the virus”. In the United Kingdom, some scientists called on the U.K. and other E.U. governments to develop similar mobile apps as in China.

Understandably, many people desire to take extraordinary measures to tackle COVID-19, but the deployment of various apps for real-time tracking of people’s movements and interactions, deployed without an informed users’ consent and without adequate information and safeguards to human rights, are extremely problematic. They also show that now, States tend toward the ‘easier’ option of surveillance and other violations instead of putting in place the institutions and systems that would protect the public in the long term, like strong healthcare systems and public health information.

The international human rights framework recognizes the protection of public health as a legitimate reason to restrict people’s rights, including freedom of expression and privacy. At the same time, it mandates that restrictions must meet certain standards. In other words, States must prove that the restrictions are appropriate—again states MUST PROVE that their restrictions are appropriate.

They must also provide alternatives to achieve the same protective function. 

 Restrictions also must be temporary and subject to periodic and genuine review before any extension.

In other words, the new normal shall not and should not be permanent and should be reviewed for effectiveness.

If the local governments fail to prove that their proposals are for the public health they are subject to review and the people –even the cities, counties and municipalities can decide to move against governor’s proposals.

The use of apps that aim to collect information about individuals infected with COVID-19, track their exposure to others, and track individuals’ movements would fall under exemptions allowing limitation of human rights on the grounds of protecting public health. However, we need proper guarantees about how these apps work and are used, and what data is collected, where it is being stored. We also need to know how the data is processed, by whom, for which purpose, and with whom it is shared. Last but not least, we need to know whether the intrusions on human rights they present are truly necessary and proportionate.

It is of utmost importance to remember that heavy-handed techniques of mass surveillance still violate our human rights, even if governments claim they can “protect” people. Fear and public health crises should not make institutions blind to human rights concerns, nor should they stop us from looking for human rights-compliant solutions. In other words, a global health crisis should not be used to normalize oppressive surveillance measures, which do not comply with international human rights standards. States shouldn’t ask people to completely sacrifice privacy and civil liberties on the altars of a public health crisis, if other alternatives are available; nor should private companies be allowed to do so.

As the COVID -19 pandemic worsens and death tolls increase, we will see more attempts to appropriate technologies once used for war and profit with the excuse that it will preserve human life.

What is happening is that the technocrats present this with no alternative and so mass surveillance becomes more palatable to a frightened public, particularly one desensitized by a decade of smartphone ubiquity and data-siphoning apps.

We’ve heard all this before. After the September 11 attacks, Americans were told that greater monitoring and data sharing would allow the state to stop terrorism before it started, leading Congress to grant unprecedented surveillance powers that often failed to preempt much of anything.

The persistence and expansion of this spying in the nearly two decades since, and the abuses exposed, remind us that emergency powers can outlive their emergencies.

If you are one of the frightened, take a deep breath and ask if any of these arbitrary proposals are going to be good for the country in the long term—is it worth the trouble of curtailing human rights for knee jerk responses to things that are not proven to save lives but to make life miserable?

The coronavirus pandemic presents a golden opportunity for corporate and government actors to decide what they think is unpalatable behavior and make laws against it claiming that it is lifesaving intervention. 

It absolutely isn’t – there needs to be proof that what they are doing is helping and whether or not they are burdening the people for the sake of their own political pursuits.

We should not settle for an “anything goes” government that makes excused about preserving life when much of what they do has nothing to do with preserving life or even increase.

Just like any government, they do not provide anything that takes away human pain and suffering –and now they are in the business of saving precious lives?

No they are in the business of milking the money teat for as long as we let them.

Unless they can provide some proof that their arbitrary policies and laws or rules are doing any good, then you have a right not to patronize businesses that are participating or by law you can challenge their decisions and provide probable cause in violating your constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Written by Clyde Lewis

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