Gary Adkisson: Give an inch, take a mile

Gary Adkisson: Give an inch, take a mile

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For a couple of weeks, many North Dakotans thought we might see little impact from the coronavirus.

Relative to some states, with just 19 diagnosed patients as of this writing, and no deaths attributable to the virus, North Dakotans are indeed fortunate.

Taking precautions, following all the hygiene rules we all now know, is the key to our continued health and well-being.

But I am concerned with the actions of some states and local governments in the name of safety.

Ordering bars and restaurants to close rather than to limit their operations to take out and delivery seems to be an overreach. Many of these locally owned businesses will never recover from a full shutdown.

In many cities and states, restaurants and bars have been ordered closed indefinitely. According to FEMA, 90% of small businesses fail within a year if they cannot resume business operations within five days of a shutdown. Many of them may have survived if operations had only been limited and not closed.

I applaud our leaders, both locally and statewide, for taking decisive action without overreacting.

After being slow to respond to the COVID-19 threat, our federal government is now coming up to speed on not only implementing restrictions to travel and crowd size but in developing and providing the necessary equipment, tests and vaccines.

But in the face of danger or disaster, there always are people in power who use the opportunity to gain or consolidate power, and such is the case today with the Trump administration.

Facebook and Google confirmed a CNN report that the Trump administration is exploring using our location data on our phones, iPads, etc. to track the spread of the virus.

“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it,” George Orwell wrote in "1984."

This is an extreme overreach in my opinion. If it sounds like “Big Brother,” that’s because it is.

We saw the same kind of overreach after 9/11, when our government co-opted the tech industry to track down possible terrorists and terror plots. In those uncertain days following the unprecedented attacks on our nation, it was understandable.

The Patriot Act was signed into law in October 2001, just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. The law was reauthorized with a few modifications in 2006.

The success of that program varies depending on who you ask. A Washington Post story said FBI agents can point to no single case that was solved using the act, while a Heritage Foundation report says 50 cases were solved due to the powers granted under the act.

President Trump on March 13 signed a National Emergency Act concerning the coronavirus. Doing this gives the president great power to waive existing laws in the name of public health. Proclamation 9994, as the emergency act is known, is warranted, in my opinion.

But the problem in Washington is that they don’t know where to stop. And they seldom end these emergency acts.

There are 34 emergency acts still in place, with the oldest dating back to Jimmy Carter in 1979. There are six President Clinton emergencies, 12 George W. Bush emergencies, and 10 Barack Obama emergency declarations still in effect.

Once an emergency, always an emergency in Washington.

With each of these acts, a little constitutional freedom is taken away and never restored.

If President Trump moves forward with this plan to utilize the location tracking through our phones and other technology under the guise of tracking the coronavirus, you can be sure that data will never be free of government control again.

Gary Adkisson is publisher of The Bismarck Tribune.

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