Civil liberties in the coronavirus crisis

The Government’s response to a public health emergency has been to strip away our civil liberties. We need to put a stop to it now.

The Government has an obligation to take steps to protect people’s lives and this involves restrictions on individual freedoms.

But in times of crisis, states have a habit of going too far.

Viruses are not cured by removing people’s rights and freedoms, but that is exactly what our Government has done – treating the pandemic as a criminal justice issue, prioritising immigration control over human life and failing to protect the marginalised.

Liberty has always supported proportionate action to protect lives. This isn’t that. The Government needs to scrap its current coronavirus policies and focus on a response that protects our rights.

Impact of coronavirus on our civil liberties:

Policing

The police have been given extensive new powers to detain people they think might be infectious, force them to be tested and place them in quarantine without a time limit.

Police could also hand out fines and use force to impose the ‘lockdown’.

Communities which were already over-policed have borne the brunt of these new powers.

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Migrants’ rights

The Government’s hostile environment policies have left undocumented people too afraid to seek medical care in the middle of a public health emergency in case they are faced with huge bills, detention and deportation. And hundreds of people are still being held in immigration detention centres without access to satisfactory healthcare services.

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Surveillance and data privacy

The Government is prioritising secret surveillance during the pandemic, making it even easier to spy on us all. It is also looking into using mobile phone data to see if people are following public health guidelines and is requiring health services to share private patient information to fight coronavirus.

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Mental health and social care

The Coronavirus Act has removed vital safeguards for people experiencing mental health crisis, meaning they could be wrongly detained and medicated against their will without independent review.

The Act has also suspended vital social care requirements for local authorities – leaving some older and disabled people without even basic support in a pandemic.

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Homelessness

Many homeless people have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic. Some have been denied shelter because of their immigration status, and a number have even been fined for being outside.

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Coronavirus: Know your rights

To help deal with the public health emergency caused by coronavirus, the Government made new rules putting the country on ‘lockdown’.

There have been a lot of confusing messages about the ever-evolving rules. For months many people have been unsure about what is and what isn’t allowed.

Our explainers on the new laws, rules and guidance helps clear this up.

What are the new rules?

When can I leave my home?

What can the police do?

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