Civil liberties in the coronavirus crisis

We’re living through an unprecedented public health emergency, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. But any measures that affect our civil liberties must be a last resort – and for as short a time as possible.

Liberty and its members have protected everyone’s rights and freedoms for almost a century. Now in the middle of a public health emergency, our role is more important than ever.

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

But in times of crisis, states have a habit of reaching for intrusive surveillance and harsh criminal punishments. Our Government is now headed in that direction too. This is not the answer.

Liberty will make sure no one has to sacrifice their rights and instead fairness, equality and dignity underpin the coronavirus response.

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

Certain communities which are already over-policed are likely to bear 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

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.

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Social care

The Coronavirus Act has suspended vital social care requirements for local authorities to make sure people’s basic needs are met and to support carers. These measures will disproportionately impact older people and disabled people, put extra pressure on the NHS and will put lives at risk.

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Coronavirus: Know your rights

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

There have been a lot of confusing and contradictory messages about the new rules. Many people are unsure about what is and what isn’t allowed.

To help clear this up, we’ve created some explainers of what you can and can’t do.

What are the new rules?

When can I leave my home?

What can the police do?

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