Leaders around the world have passed emergency decrees and legislation expanding their reach during the pandemic. Will they ever relinquish them?
Armenia in ‘Democratic backsliding’: Opposition MP Naira Zohrabyan blasts Pashinyan emergency bill on determining citizens’ location via cell phone
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has authorized his country’s internal security agency to track citizens using a secret trove of cellphone data developed for counterterrorism. By tracing people’s movements, the government can punish those who defy isolation orders with up to six months in prison.
LONDON — In Hungary, the prime minister can now rule by decree. In Britain, ministers have what a critic called “eye-watering” power to detain people and close borders. Israel’s prime minister has shut down courts and begun an intrusive surveillance of citizens. Chile has sent the military to public squares once occupied by protesters. Bolivia has postponed elections.
As the coronavirus pandemic brings the world to a juddering halt and anxious citizens demand action, leaders across the globe are invoking executive powers and seizing virtually dictatorial authority with scant resistance.
Governments and rights groups agree that these extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. States need new powers to shut their borders, enforce quarantines and track infected people. Many of these actions are protected under international rules, constitutional lawyers say.
But critics say some governments are using the public health crisis as cover to seize new powers that have little to do with the outbreak, with few safeguards to ensure that their new authority will not be abused.
The laws are taking swift hold across a broad range of political systems — in authoritarian states like Jordan, faltering democracies like Hungary, and traditional democracies like Britain. And there are few sunset provisions to ensure that the powers will be rescinded once the threat passes.
“We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close if not on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights.
As the new laws broaden state surveillance, allow governments to detain people indefinitely and infringe on freedoms of assembly and expression, they could also shape civic life, politics and economies for decades to come.
The pandemic is already redefining norms. Invasive surveillance systems in South Korea and Singapore, which would have invited censure under normal circumstances, have been praised for slowing infections. Governments that initially criticized China for putting millions of its citizens under lockdown have since followed suit.
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