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New changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for dealing with the spread of contagious disease could give federal agents broad power to detain and probe citizens with little justification.
Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the new guidelines, which are currently on hold pending review from the new administration.
The changes , which will likely take effect at the end of this month, will expand the CDC’s authority beyond its current ability to detain individuals who may be carrying a contagious disease only when they are entering the country or crossing state lines.
Under the new rules, CDC officials would be permitted to detain individuals anywhere in the U.S. for examination if they exhibit symptoms that could be a sign of infectious disease.
Symptoms that could lead CDC officials to justify quarantine might include high fever, muscle aches, headache or cramps. And because of the broad nature of symptoms that may be associated with contagious disease, the CDC’s new powers would be easily abused.
In the past, the decision to quarantine individuals during a health crisis was largely left to states and local communities. With that came ample opportunity for individuals subject to quarantine to seek judicial review.
Under the new changes, however, the federal agency will have far more power over the process.
There are even warnings of the possibility for government overreach in the pages of The New York Times:
[T]he new rules give the C.D.C. significant in-house oversight of the decision to quarantine, with up to three layers of internal agency review. This internal review has no explicit time limit and could easily stretch on for weeks while a healthy person languishes in quarantine. And since federal courts often wait until an agency has completed its internal process before it will consider hearing an appeal, we won’t know until the next crisis hits whether a federal judge will agree to hear a petition from someone detained before the C.D.C. review is completed.
In addition, the C.D.C. now has clear legal authority to take over the quarantine role from states in many cases, and to restrict interstate travel. This raises questions not just of federalism but also of practicality. Local health departments have staff, relationships and the experience to set up and manage quarantine facilities. The C.D.C., whose main job is to provide expertise, does not. Nor does it have the infrastructure for or experience in managing travel disputes and adjudicating quarantine appeals. And in many cases, states and local governments may be better equipped to handle the situation and have no need for the federal government to take over.
Given the government’s penchant for using health scares to manipulate the population, this is bad news.