Advocats Abogados

On pandemics, civil rights and the redefinition of the social contract

Legal Health - Help ( Covit 19 ) - Fuente: Enrique Dans - 24th March 2020
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At this point, with half of the world in alarm and subjected to drastic measures of confinement, it goes without saying that we are living in a moment of historical significance, an episode that will indelibly mark our future in many ways. We are no longer talking only about mortality or the economic crisis that it will undoubtedly generate, but about much more profound changes that we will have to make to prepare for a future that, suddenly, does not seem so beautiful to us.

The coronavirus has made us fall flat. We believed that we enjoyed the greatest period of well-being in history, and now we know that we are intensely vulnerable, that we live in a planet that we are destroying and making uninhabitable for our species, and that our activity causes mutations in microorganisms that, with certain periodicity, they become dangerous pathogens. The best that this pandemic can leave us is the evidence that things should not return to normal, because it was precisely this supposed normal that brought us these consequences.

How will we live when we have controlled the pandemic? Everything we are learning about the coronavirus should help us to be more prepared and understand the risks for future episodes, which there will be. For the moment we know that acting fast is essential, that covering things up, acting like an imbecile or an irresponsible person makes everything worse, and that some Countries are doing much better than others when it comes to flattening the curve and containing the pandemic. We discussed it at the time that the United States was an announced disaster.

We already know positively what we only intuited at the beginning of the month: the enormous importance of the diagnostic test. The greater the availability of diagnostic tests, the simpler and faster they are, the better. The commitment to constantly diagnose as many more citizens as possible is what is differentiating the Countries that manage to contain the pandemic from those that continue to see the number of infections rise.

But in addition, we must maintain confinement measures as rigidly as possible, even if this seems hard and difficult. It is worth listening to a person who grew up in a society in which civil rights were practically an entelechy, Angela Merkel, to talk about how the current situation justifies them. And the thing, in terms of civil rights, is not only going to stay there: if many were shocked when they saw China use apps and geolocation to control the movements of its population during the spread of the infection, now we see how Hong Kong, South Korea or Taiwan apply similar principles: their success is being to accept population control measures that would be completely unacceptable under normal circumstances, and now consider them fully justified.

Now, with the pandemic already more advanced, the United States government, which is even considering suspending some constitutional rights, is requesting information from Facebook, Google and other technology companies to think about implementing a pandemic control system similar to the one implemented by China. European mobile phone operators are beginning to share their users' data with the authorities to identify concentrations and customer movements, for the time being, anonymizing the data and respecting privacy legislation - but let's not rule out that this will also change.

We need to modify the social contract, and generate mechanisms that allow states to technologically control their entire population - their state of health, their movements, etc. - without this implying that we renounce our civil rights when the exceptional situation ends. In the future, healthcare will change dramatically, and monitoring devices will become critical. To be able to impose a truly effective quarantine without imbeciles and irresponsible who intend to go on vacation or to their beach house, to be able to guarantee that an infected person remains isolated or to be able to trace someone's movements in the time that they could be acting as a vector of the illness becomes fundamental, we will have to renounce to part of our rights and our privacy but not turning into China.

We are going to have to do more things, and to leverage technology for it has all the logic. The quarantine must be stricter, the investigation must allow us to understand why some people only have mild symptoms while others become seriously ill or die, even if it involves sequencing the DNA of all those who undergo a test. And we must accept it as something exceptional, as something that only has to serve to resolve a crisis situation, without necessarily becoming a setback in civil rights that were very difficult to conquer.

The coronavirus has made us aware of many things. Amongst others, that we can stop the world from facing a serious problem. Now, let us act with the same determination to solve another more serious problem that affects us all: the climate emergency. Let us act to change the way we manage ourselves and convert what now sounds like a way to alleviate the crisis, subsidies and temporary aid, into a safety net system, into an unconditional basic income that keeps the entire population above the level of poverty, not only in the face of a pandemic, but in a systematic way.

Exceptional moments justify exceptional measures. How can we ensure that these measures do not become waivers of important rights when the exceptional situation ends? The only answer is in a reasonable redefinition of the social contract. For that, and for many other things that we will have to do in the future.

Let's think about it.