The second question: Should some tools be off-limits even if they are effective? “We feel that facial-recognition technologies are just too fraught,” Cohn said. “Not that their efficacy is proven, but if you could prove it, using pictures of people to try to identify who might have been exposed to COVID-19 is still just too dangerous. Facial recognition is too damaging to anything like self-governance.”
The third question is: What guardrails will be in place? Specifics that concern EFF include, would a contract-tracing app be voluntary or compulsory? Would it offer users anonymity? Would the app collect only data necessary to the task at hand? Where would the data live? How long would they be retained? Who would have access to the data? And have efforts been made to prevent misuses by app users?
Reason is America’s premier libertarian magazine. In moments of optimism, its staffers hope that regulations that have been suspended during the pandemic, such as impediments to telemedicine, practicing medicine across state lines, and selling to-go cocktails, will be exposed as needless and abolished for good. More often, they worry that through abuse or incompetence, the state will do more harm than good in the present emergency.
The magazine’s editor, Katherine Mangu-Ward, worries that the Department of Justice will abuse the crisis to undermine the rights of criminal defendants, that local authorities will be discriminatory when enforcing lockdown measures, and that attempts at central economic planning, like invoking the Defense Production Act, will eliminate vital price signals that help markets meet human needs.
Jane Chong: How to actually use the Defense Production Act
“At Reason, a core part of our mission is talking about ways that progress and innovation come from places outside of and separate from the state, and staying attentive to the sometimes-hidden costs that different government actions and regulations can impose,” she told me. “Already in this pandemic, we’ve seen individuals turning their lives or their businesses on a dime to promote crucial social goods. We’re worried about anything that would get in the way of that.”
Her list of worries is accordingly long and varied.
In the near term, she worries about possible limits on interstate travel. “We all know that it’s wrong to restrict people from traveling within the United States––that’s part of our deal here as a country,” she elaborated. “But where exactly is that in the Constitution? That’s a tricky question. What will the outcomes and precedents be if that question is tested in the courts because governors weren’t able to reach harmonious decisions about when to restart normal economic life?”
She also worries about centralized health-care rationing. “It is genuinely horrific that we as a nation are potentially facing thousands of trolley problems. But this isn’t the first time that nations or hospitals have had to make decisions about how to use scarce, lifesaving resources,” she said. “I consider myself a utilitarian libertarian, and it is important to me to try to maximize good outcomes. But I recognize other people disagree. So to me, the question should be answered as locally as possible...The people making the decisions should ideally be as close as possible to those who will suffer harm when they don’t get the resources. It makes me nervous thinking of Donald Trump making these decisions for the entire nation, and more comfortable letting individual physicians or hospitals make them.”