by Bob Barr
Earlier this month – on May Day to be precise – one of the most liberal members of Congress (Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush) introduced a bill that would provide $100 Billion in its first year to jump start the process of “contact tracing” for COVID-19 infected persons. The bill would accomplish this through a proposed army of “mobile health units” and government-authorized visits to “individuals’ residences.”
The bill quickly attracted conservative opposition, due in part because the number assigned to it – H.R. 6666 – is similar to “666,” which is the biblical “mark of Satan.” Predictably, left-wing media sources have been quick to ridicule such characterizations as an easy way to undermine substantive opposition to the measure. Make no mistake, however, the bill is a dangerous piece of legislation, not because of its number, but because of its substance.
H.R. 6666 may not the work of the Devil, but it is the latest in a long line of legislative vehicles pushed by congressional Democrats (and some Republicans) to increase the federal government’s power to gather and database private information on citizens. This helps to accomplish what always has been the ultimate goal of the modern Democratic Party: control of the populace.
In this latest effort, House Democrats have employed the tradecraft for which the Congress has become notoriously adept – hiding the true purpose of legislation behind a façade of protecting people from a known or perceived danger. In this case, the scourge of COVID-19. The avowed purpose of this and similar measures is, of course, not to erode individual privacy, but to “make us safe.”
As with the crafting of the massive, privacy-invasive “USAPATRIOT Act” passed in the days following the 9/11 attacks, H.R. 6666 drafters understand that a catchy title for a piece of legislation can significantly improve chances for its passage, even as it camouflages its true purpose. Thus, the clever title for H.R. 6666 – the “TRACE” Act, or the COVID-19 “Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone Act.”
Fear of terrorist attacks fueled support for the Patriot Act 19 years ago, and fear of COVID-19 now is driving support for widespread contact tracing.
While support for contact tracing is growing within the government sector as well as among private businesses and the population generally, H.R. 6666 is unlikely to be the legislative vehicle by which such a national contact tracing program is implemented.
Most Republicans would shy away from supporting a contact tracing bill sponsored by Bobby Rush, whose pre-congressional resume includes having served as a founder and leader of the violent Black Panther movement and whose two decades in the House have been characterized by support for the most extreme gun control measures.
Still, the specific provisions within H.R. 6666 pose a very real danger; not only as a stand-alone bill that could be introduced by someone less of an extremist that Rep. Rush, but as a possible amendment that could be slipped into the most recent, massive COVID-19 “stimulus” bill that passed the House last week. The administration already has signaled support for some version of a Phase IV relief package, and whatever that final document looks like, it is certain to be long and complicated, making it a perfect vehicle in which to hide a provision for “contact tracing” similar perhaps to what Rush’s TRACE Act would do.
As disturbing as such measures are in terms of government surveillance and personal privacy, they are gaining support even among Republican legislators. Federal agencies, of course, always are on the lookout for ways to increase data-basing of information about individual citizens.
The TRACE Act already has nearly 60 co-sponsors, mostly the usual suspects from the Democratic Party’s extreme left-wing. Interestingly, however, among its co-sponsors is one of the less extreme members of Speaker Pelosi’s Party — south Georgia’s Sanford Bishop. This is an indication that the actual substance of the bill can attract members not as radical as Rush or Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Tulsi Gabbard.
Tech companies already are busy implementing technology to facilitate and mainstream contact tracing, insofar as the technology has commercial and law enforcement ramifications and appeal far beyond whatever medical benefit its proponents might claim. Those of us who are concerned about the growth of government surveillance and data-basing of personal information must be vigilant against measures like the TRACE Act, regardless of their surface appeal. We must demand the Congress and the Administration aggressively oppose any such measures.