Glenn Greenwald warns government is expanding power amid coronavirus

The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald said Wednesday that the federal government was expanding its power during the coronavirus pandemic, adding that it would be a balancing act not to accept such increased powers permanently.

Balancing necessary precautions with safeguarding civil liberties is “very difficult and complicated” in the case of the virus, Greenwald said during an interview with Hill.TV.

"Once you start feeling imperiled by a threat—not necessarily you yourself, but the society in which you live… instinctively you start, almost by nature, wanting protection from the state — you start wanting the state to do things collectively in order to respond to this danger.”

“It doesn’t mean I’m suddenly in favor of mass surveillance, or think that we ought to throw caution to the wind with concerns about authoritarianism” Greenwald said. “Quite the contrary, I think we need to fight against that instinct.”

However, Greenwald noted that, from a civil liberties perspective, the threat was not exactly analogous to the War on Terror, noting that for coronavirus, “the threat is very real and very acute, and the consequences are difficult to imagine in terms of how pervasive they are in every aspect of society.”

Asked by host Saagar Enjeti how such a balance could be struck and how to institute more extreme measures responsibly, Greenwald responded “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Greenwald also noted that proponents of the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 had assured civil libertarians the law had a sunset provision. Yet, the law remains in effect nearly two decades later as a “permanent part of our political framework.”

“That is the great concern, how do you temporarily vest power in the hands of the state that might be necessary to preserve these liberties in the long term without simultaneously giving them those powers realistically even if you intend for it to be temporary in a way that becomes permanent?” he added.