Coronavirus Is Killing Democracy
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave police and military an unprecedented mandate in a press conference on April 2: If any citizens were found challenging or disobeying health officials on the coronavirus rules and regulations, the armed forces should “shoot them dead.”
This marks an escalation in the war on coronavirus.
On April 4, Philippines police shot and killed a 63-year-old man who refused to obey quarantine rules. The man was believed to be drunk, and when stopped at a checkpoint, threatened officials with a scythe. He is the first casualty of this approach.
A similarly violent enforcement of quarantine regulations is unfolding in sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa, police have been beating and firing rubber bullets into crowds to send them home. So far, three people have been killed. In Kenya, five have been killed, including a 13-year-old boy, shot while on a balcony with his parents. Coronavirus, by comparison, has killed only six in Kenya.
Over a dozen countries have embraced similar measures. Ugandan soldiers have shot two people who disobeyed curfew rules. In Rwanda, police are alleging that two civilians they shot dead were killed because they exhibited violent behavior. In Zimbabwe, the armed forces, historically responsible for deadly crackdowns, are beating and attacking any who violate the 21-day lockdown.
These severe measures are being enforced in poor countries where crowded settlements, markets and streets make social distancing nearly impossible. Isolation rules effectively give them an impossible ultimatum: Go outside and potentially die, or stay inside and starve.
The forceful action, therefore, threatens the livelihood of most people.
Such flouting of basic human rights, while unfortunate, is not completely unexpected in these young democracies. Shockingly, however, human rights are also being disregarded in nations with an older and much more stable association with democracy.
Western governments aiming to curb the spread of coronavirus have been increasingly violating privacy rights, tracking civilian movements by tapping into apps and cell-phone data. The reasoning is simple: By proximity tracking, “we know who could be infected, and instead of quarantining millions, we’re quarantining 10,” said Chris Boos of the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracking.
All over Europe, health agencies are gathering data from telecom companies to collect geolocation and cell-tower data on users, in most cases, through laws and agreements swiftly proposed and passed to address coronavirus. Last week, Slovakia passed a law allowing its public health office to collect cell-phone data. Citizens in the Czech Republic, Iceland, Germany and Spain are being encouraged to join programs and apps that help track individuals exposed to the virus.
Effective tracking necessitates effective testing, and governments are stepping it up. Germany is testing 500,000 people a week and is looking to increase it to 200,000 a day; Sweden and Austria are both increasing testing to about 15,000 tests a day. The United Kingdom is increasing testing to 25,000 per day, while the United States has already tested over 1 million citizens.
These tracking and testing moves are in the mold of those taken by Asian nations since the outbreak of coronavirus, commended by World Health Organization director Tedros Ghebreyesus as the “new standard for outbreak response.” Nations such as South Korea, Taiwan and China led the way in aggressively testing citizens and using surveillance technology to track and help slow the spread of the virus.
China, in particular, has effectively deployed drones, surveillance technology and its more than 300 million facial recognition enabled cameras to harangue those who violate quarantine rules. In “The Cure Is Killing Us,” Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry wrote that China “enforced the quarantine just as you’d expect an authoritarian government to: Police drones watched foot traffic and blared commands at people not wearing facemasks.”
South Korea is also being lauded as a success story for bringing down its new cases through creating a cell-phone data map of every cell-phone user. This map shows people if they have been in contact with someone who has been infected. When a case is confirmed, people receive text messages detailing the infected person’s age, as well as a list of locations the person visited before testing positive.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has developed a “digital fence” through which it is tracking all 55,000 people it has placed under mandatory home quarantine, leveraging cell-phone data to track and monitor them. If a cell-phone is turned off or runs out of battery, policemen are deployed to the person’s home to investigate. If found in violation of the rules, the fine can be up to $33,000.
European and Asian nations have embraced and executed these “authoritarian” measures that infringe on civil rights and liberties. And now it seems the nations that historically were the most eminent guarantors of freedoms and rights are also following their lead.
America and Britain Follow Suit
According to the UK Commissioner’s Office, the severity of the coronavirus outbreak warrants the use of personal data and information to help contain it. As such, a privacy watchdog in the UK has said the government can legally use personal data to track and monitor people’s movement and behavior to help fight the spread.
The U.S. has similarly embraced the use of data collection, employing the help of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple to be able to track citizens on their phones and extend government power to be able to reach right into citizens’ pockets. On April 10, Apple and Google announced a joint contact tracking system for their cell-phone operating systems. It will allow tracking infected cell-phone users, giving a record of which other users an individual has been in close contact with. This is in addition to the lockdown in 31 states across the country (for more on this, please read our article “America: Land of the Lockdowns”).
These measures are mostly popular. People are afraid and feel at risk and are, therefore, much happier to give up their fundamental rights and freedoms. Governments are eagerly gobbling them up, even in the land of the free.
Just how brief this suspension of rights will actually be remains to be seen.
Democracy on the Way Out
Slovakian Justice Minister Maria Koliková said after a new data collection law was passed: “We realize this is an infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms, let’s not pretend it is not. In a democratic state, an interference with fundamental rights and freedoms is possible if the measure is proportionate to the purpose” (emphasis added throughout).
Today, drones are enforcing social distancing, circling the streets in Brussels, home of the European Union. Stay-at-home orders are being broadcast through the streets of Germany. Last week, Israel passed sweeping emergency surveillance powers and French lawmakers tabled an amendment that would allow the collection of six months’ worth of health and location data. The UK is collecting public information from cell-phone providers, and the U.S. is gathering information on the public from tech giants while in a virtual lockdown.
While all this information is said to be anonymized and stripped of individual identifiers, it ignores the fact that an individual’s identity can easily be deduced from a few mobile data location points. Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye of Imperial College in London said, “The challenge with this data is that we don’t believe it can be anonymized.” His research as the head of a computational privacy group found that individuals can be identified from as few as four pieces of anonymized data.
And the end of lockdowns might not mark the end of data and location tracking. Prof. Olivier Degomme of Ghent University believes that tracking will only truly be useful once lockdown measures have been relaxed and people are interacting normally once more.
Proximity tracking would have to continue after quarantine and social distancing measures have been lifted. This means that the “infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms” necessitated by the disease would have to be continued to maintain and safeguard public health.
Citizens across Europe are not only in favor of the present isolation measures, but would be in favor of even more drastic measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.
An swg poll shows that Italians would tolerate even tougher measures than those already in place, which have seen all schools closed and all “nonessential” internal movement banned. Sixty-three percent support state control of their movement, even without their consent; 74 percent are in favor of drone use to patrol the streets.
According to a Forsa poll, 88 percent of Germans support the current lockdown measures. Fifty-five percent are in favor of even stricter measures, with just 10 percent advocating for an early loosening of rules. The same trend is seen in other European countries, such as the UK, France and Poland.
As governments around the world take increasingly dictatorial measures in order to get a handle on coronavirus, citizens are becoming more and more willing to give up their rights and freedoms to stop the disease’s spread.
As harmless as people think temporarily giving up their rights and freedoms is, history shows that the fragility of democracy as we know it means this undemocratic overreach is likely permanent.
Take Hungary, for example. As Trumpet writer Richard Palmer wrote, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán grabbed emergency powers in 2015 over the migrant crisis. He has yet to hand those powers back. And on March 30, he used the 450 Hungarian cases of coronavirus and 15 deaths to grab nearly unlimited powers.
That is the world in a microcosm. Democracy has never been a sure, secure government solution. It has always been a shaky, fragile system that, at the slightest bit of instability, crumbles and lays the groundwork for authoritarian rule. That is what the global government response to coronavirus is showing.
Times of the Gentiles
In “The Riddle of Government” Trumpet managing editor Joel Hilliker wrote:
[Democracy] is supposedly the peak of human achievement in government, and it is a wreck! … Many nations are surrendering freedom in favor of a stronger single leader—a 21st-century king. Even more and more Americans are being seduced by European-style socialism or populism, and want to change or trash the Constitution. Democratic presidential candidates in particular are calling for some of the most egregious power grabs by a government imaginable.
For 6,000 years man has been writing these lessons in government, mostly through suffering and oppression—and by showing what does not work.
The response to coronavirus is accelerating this trend. Governments have brought misery and oppression because man cannot rule over fellow man. From young democracies in the Philippines and Southern Africa, to the older and more established nations of America and Britain, human rights and freedoms are being trampled the world over.
People think that giving up their information to government surveillance is harmless. They think that there is no danger in losing your freedoms and rights. But history has shown that under no circumstances can man be trusted. Law is the only thing that holds nations together. Government is underpinned by law.
America has been a success story because its founders recognized the Bible as the supreme lawgiving authority on which they based the Constitution. However, when laws become what the government decides, what man decides they are, it never ends well.
Americans have been handing powers to big government for many years, but this trend accelerated under the Obama administration. In 2013, a series of aggressive administrative moves included the signing of 23 executive orders on gun control. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said that through these orders, “people’s minds are getting conditioned to … rule by a dictatorship or a tyranny.”
In America Under Attack, Mr. Flurry writes: “The U.S. government is casting aside the foundational law of the land and telling us, Look—that is just getting in the way. We don’t need that old law. We know what justice is. You can trust us! That reasoning paves the way for tyrants!”
We’re seeing this all over the world. America’s Constitution once provided some protection from it, but now the Constitution is being ignored.
Democracy is supposed to be the pinnacle of government, the most altruistic securer of freedoms, and yet it is headed for a spectacular implosion.
In Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote:
It will now be made plain—from God’s own warning prophecies—that this greatest multiplied intensity of corrective punishment will fall on Britain and America—including British peoples in Commonwealth countries. And it will strike them down first!
But they are not the only nations to suffer corrective disaster. God is Creator of all other nations, too! … They, too, are human. They, too, are made in God’s own likeness. … God sent the Apostle Paul to Gentile nations!
All mankind has rebelled against, rejected, and turned from God and His ways! There can never be peace on Earth until all nations will have been turned to God and His ways, ruled by His supreme government!
There is no hope in democracy or any kind of government man creates. The only hope we have is found in the Bible. Please read our February 2020 Trumpet issue. It details everything wrong with man’s government on this Earth and highlights how no hope can be found in man ruling over man.
Mankind desperately needs God. Without God, mankind would completely wipe himself off the face of the planet (Matthew 24:22). But God has a plan to bring freedom, peace and stability to the entire Earth.