The Patriot Act and the Coronavirus: Crisis and Privacy, We Have Seen This Before

We are treading in the unfamiliar neck high waters of a novel virus pandemic, yet we are also treading in the murky familiar pattern of sacrificing privacy for urgency. It was not that long ago that our country collectively experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our leaders needed a rapid solution to counter the terrorists after realizing that our ineffective bureaucracy was impeding intelligence work as well as stifling speed of action. America’s civil liberties changed along with the twin tower attacks and a valid justification for a decrease in privacy. As the immediate threat subsided, the justification of a possible future attack kept those diminished privacy laws in place. Is it difficult to see the same pattern playing itself out now with the COVID-19 pandemic? We have a valid life-threatening reason to give companies like Apple and Google free reign into our personal lives (as if they don’t already). They can help save us from ourselves using their technology. In tech we trust!

It has been said by many a politician that one should never waste a good crisis. Congress could never have passed the laws that followed 9/11 under any other circumstances. The USA Patriot Act grew into an organism with tentacles too long to unwind ourselves from its grasp. Then in 2008 after the housing bubble burst (that no one saw), we decided more legislation was the answer once again! Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to protect us from further systemic financial threats. I liken these bills that go to extreme measures after the fact to putting in a million-dollar security system after your house has already been robbed. I get it, it makes you feel safe, but the deed’s been done, and probably won’t happen the same way again. Now on the cusp of another crisis we are again looking to enact more sweeping measures, but this time to give broad powers to a few companies to examine everything we do.

September 11th and the Patriot Act

If we look back at the sentiment of the country during the September 11th attacks, it was a time of confusion and fear. Sure, as the years passed on, those sentiments have faded from our collective memories, but the reality is that we were all in a state of shock. The reaction was quick and decisive. The measures subsequently put in place provided refuge and immediate protection.

The longer-term repercussions and ramifications, which we did not see then, now bring up questions like how do we unravel these labyrinthine measures in peace time? The greater question is in the future how do we learn from the past and implement policies that both protect us within a crisis, and not impact future generations that might not have been alive during their creation but are suffering under its repercussions. We justify it by saying it is the only world they know. My children know nothing else than a world with social media, too much sharing and an invasion of privacy. They were simply born into and so it is.

When the terrorist threat was imminent, we liked the idea of going after the bad guys that were trying to kill us and going after them as quickly as possible. I get it. I was in that camp. What we did not like was the idea that there was someone somewhere reading all our emails and searching all of our private conversations without legal justification. That seemed like a step over the edge.

In my deep dive (not really), into Wikipedia, I found some startling information I did not previously know about the Patriot Act. It looks like we were surely stepping on fourth and first amendment rights in an obvious way. It states,“…the permission given to law enforcement to search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s consent or knowledge; the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, email and financial records without a court order…”(Patriot Act, n.d.)

When you look at what Wikipedia calls the most controversial parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and the case of Nicholas Merrill you start to worry that we are exemplifying George Orwell’s 1984 fears to a T. I apologize for the long quote, but I felt it was worth the read.

Wikipedia USA Patriot ACT Title V


“One of the most controversial aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act is in Title V, and relates to National Security Letters (NSLs). An NSL is a form of administrative subpoena used by the FBI, and reportedly by other U.S. government agencies including the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various records and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. Title V allowed the use of NSLs to be made by a Special Agent in charge of a Bureau field office, where previously only the Director or the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI were able to certify such requests.[114] This provision of the Act was challenged by the ACLU on behalf of an unknown party against the U.S. government on the grounds that NSLs violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because there is no way to legally oppose an NSL subpoena in court, and that it was unconstitutional not to allow a client to inform their Attorney as to the order because of the gag provision of the letters. The court’s judgement found in favour of the ACLU’s case, and they declared the law unconstitutional.[115] Later, the USA PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and amendments were made to specify a process of judicial review of NSLs and to allow the recipient of an NSL to disclose receipt of the letter to an attorney or others necessary to comply with or challenge the order.[116] However, in 2007, the U.S. District Court struck down even the reauthorized NSLs because the gag power was unconstitutional as courts could still not engage in a meaningful judicial review of these gags. On August 28, 2015, Judge Victor Marrero of the federal district court in Manhattan ruled the gag order of Nicholas Merrill was unjustified. In his decision, Judge Marrero described the FBI’s position as, “extreme and overly broad,” affirming that “courts cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, simply accept the Government’s assertions that disclosure would implicate and create a risk.” He also found that the FBI’s gag order on Mr. Merrill “implicates serious issues, both with respect to the First Amendment and accountability of the government to the people.” [117] Initially, the ruling was released in redaction by Judge Marrero. The FBI was given 90 days to pursue any other alternative course of action but elected not to do so. Upon release of the unredacted ruling on November 30, 2015, it was revealed for the first time the extent to which the FBI’s NSL accompanied by a gag order sought to collect information. Through the court documents, it was revealed for the first time that through an NSL, the FBI believes it can legally obtain information including an individual’s complete web browsing history, the IP addresses of everyone a person has corresponded with, and all the records of all online purchases within the last 180 days. The FBI also claims via the extension of an NSL, it can obtain cell site location information. In the landmark case of Nicholas Merrill the FBI in specific sought to seek the following information on an account: DSL account information, radius log, subscriber name and related subscriber information, account number, date the account opened or closed, addresses associated with the account, subscriber day/evening telephone numbers, screen names or other on-line names associated with the account, order forms, records relating to merchandise orders/shipping information for the last 180 days, all billing related to the account, internet service provider (ISP), all email addresses associated with the account, internet protocol address assigned to the account, all website information registered to the account, uniform resource locator address assigned to the account, any other information which you consider to be an electronic communication transactional record. This was the first time it was revealed the extent to which an NSL under the Patriot Act could request communication information.[118][119]” (Patriot Act, n.d.)

Corona Tracking

As it stands today, we are allowing tech companies like Apple and Google to track us using the Bluetooth chip that is in your smartphone. The idea is that it will reduce the spread of coronavirus by letting phone users know when they are in proximity to someone who has been infected.

This gives me mixed feelings for several reasons. First, I love technology (Napoleon Dynamite reference), but I also love what technology can do and will do in the future. I love the idea of technology saving us from a pandemic. What better use of human ingenuity and years of collaborations eventually culminating to saving our planet from a deadly disease?

All that being said, it doesn’t come free. It comes at the expense of our personal privacy. To many placing technology and privacy on the scales of lady justice, it seems like a good trade-off. Right now, in the moment it seems like a great idea. Yeah, sure, let’s get it done ASAP and save the world.

It is only in hindsight when we don’t have the pandemic equivalent of looking down the barrel of a gun, that we realize we don’t want that Bluetooth technology tracking us all of the time. It already does, but now it will be deeply tracking everyone we encounter. Does this lead to a 1984 Orwellian future where there are no secrets and there is no privacy from big brother?

In the wrong hands this tracking data could give information to mal-intentioned individuals information about high profile targets, like heads of state, governmental power players, or athletes and celebrities. We have seen increases in cyber-attacks but imagine the havoc that could be wreaked with knowledge of everyone you’ve interacted with, in addition to where you’ve been at all times.

We have already seen the great use of coronavirus tracking software to help us stay informed as to how the virus is spreading. That has been a wonderful tool for local and national leaders to help implement polices to keep citizens safe. That is a prime example of how information sharing technology can bring about positive results.

If history has taught us anything it is that when too much power (today that is information), is concentrated in the hands of too few, that power will be abused. Not always, but most of the time. Take Congress with its spending and legislative power. CEO’s and boards with abilities to set salaries and benefits, including golden parachutes. Think of powerful men and their abusive sexual exploits leading to the Me-Too movement. Lastly think of what we did with the Patriot Act and how to this day we are still unwinding the tentacles of 20 years ago.

Again, I am not against the idea of tracking individuals that have the virus and spreading it. I think it is a brilliant idea and we are fortunate to live in a time when we can do it. It is still many times better to be alive today in a world in the throes of a pandemic than it is to be alive in the centuries before. We just need to make sure that we have a well thought out exit strategy that will see us through the other side. Think of all of this like a prenup. We need a pandemic technology prenup. The right to split up amicably and quickly and we want it all in a writing beforehand. There will come a day when we are not worried about the pandemic and fear of losing our loved ones. And on that day our minds will shift from fear of pandemic death to the realization that we killed our civil liberties.

Stray News Bullets

Is this twenty-four-seven pandemic news cycle weighing heavy on your psyche too? There are almost too many stray bullets of information hitting me from every angle. Too much information to process and it often feels overwhelming.


Is anyone else drowning in too much negative news? It was hard enough as it was pre-pandemic just trying to stay positive and keeping my family safe. Now I’m watching a deluge of conflicting information from pundits, leaders, healthcare professionals, and a slew of armchair pandemic experts.


I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time and then suddenly, while reading a news article the other day, and while feeling some chest pain, I went into full blown panic mode. I honestly thought I was having shortness of breath related Covid-19 symptoms. I told myself I would go to sleep that night and if the shortness of breath was present in the morning, I would call my physician. I woke up the next day and felt completely fine.


I was able to see and experience firsthand just how easy it is to let the barrage of news all around me influence my mental and physical well-being.


In addition, it seems like every time I read about the suffering of others, I internalize it. A trait I inherited from my mother. Some might say, that’s part of being empathetic, it’s a good thing. I agree to some degree, but it can also be debilitating if you let other people’s stories and pain become your own. I think we can be empathetic and not internalize the worst of other’s suffering. I think.


What’s the best approach? I have no idea. I’m a news junkie, and I’m an unrepentant book junkie, heck I’m just a read anything-I-can-get-my-hands-on junkie. I never met a book I didn’t like. That doesn’t bode well for my chances of success in managing my anxiety. A lot more meditation, prayer, and Joe Rogan podcast.


Another thing weighing heavy on my mind. The irony in all of this is that we have more information than ever before, but we can’t figure out how to entirely process it, and we have to spend a great deal of our time deciphering what is real and what is fake news. I hate the term fake news, but it was fitting.


What’s confusing is the number of journalists and comments I read in the Wall Street Journal and in the New York Times that state our President and his administration are dispensing inaccurate information. If we can’t trust them, where do we turn? There is also a growing chorus of people that disagree with advice and counsel from Dr. Anthony, Fauci, who is supposedly one of this country’s foremost experts on infectious diseases. If we can’t believe him, who do we believe?


The reality is I can’t decipher what is accurate and what is unbiased news anymore. It used to be that if you got your news from a “credible” source that was good enough because there was at least some semblance of journalistic integrity. In this age of blogs (I understand the irony as I write), everyone has a megaphone, which makes information evaluation more complicated. In addition to this when I read news being reported on social media, especially on apps like Twitter, there is no fact checking because everyone wants to get information out first, and the platform character constraints not only force a lack of context, but even worse the intention is for views and not information accuracy first.

I’m not going to stop reading the news, but I probably should cut back. Either that, or just continue to let the stray news bullets keep coming.

Gratitude In Isolation With 5 Young Kids

As I read the headlines about the Coronavirus death toll in New York and all over the world, I say a silent prayer. Language can’t describe, and others can’t comprehend the agony of loved ones left in a wake of despair and grief. So many words not said, and so many lights dimmed too soon. It is a challenging time for our relatively young species, and we are all being tested in many ways. It contrast, it is beautiful to see many people rising to the challenge as they become the heroes they never knew they were.

As I contemplate on the many stories I read, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my young, beautiful, bright, children, and my kind and loving wife. I thought it would be difficult to be in isolation all day, every day, with five young kids, and no ability for them to leave to play with friends. It has truly been a special experience, as I’m usually gone at work for many hours, and rarely see them during the day. I get to enjoy my time with them in a way I don’t normally get to. There are many discussions had where I teach, uplift, but most importantly I listen. Surprisingly as we discuss the severity of what is happening all around us, each child, even my youngest, understands and recognizes how fortunate we are.

If we are able to live and breathe for another day, it is a blessing. If we can see the sun and the faces of those we love, it is a blessing. If we can hear the sounds of nature, and the voices of those close to us, it is a blessing. Even if we are alone, but recognize that with God, we are never alone, it is a blessing.

As tough as it is around the world right now we have much to be thankful for. When I was nineteen and serving as a missionary in Africa I lost a close friend to a senseless murder. Even in that time of pain and darkness, I still recognized there was still much to be thankful for including the time I had with my deceased friend.

In everything we go through, we can decide how we react. As Viktor Frankl taught in Man’s Search For Meaning, between stimuli and reaction there is always a space. In that space we can choose how we react. We can choose to be bitter and spiteful, or we can choose to be grateful and hopeful. In a world with enough pain, suffering and anguish for many lifetimes, I choose the latter.

Top 10 Coronavirus Myths and Truths

First, before we start, my disclaimer. I am not a medical/healthcare professional or an infectious disease expert. I have compiled information for you from leading experts and credible organizations, and their websites. Please use this information at your own risk and as with anything in life, be prudent, and apply your own common sense. Do not use this information as a recommendation or advice to your particular health or medical situation. When in doubt, seek the advice of your trusted medical or healthcare professional. Said otherwise, don’t be an idiot. Be safe. Protect yourself and others around you.

All information below is from the following sources: https://www.cdc.gov/ https://www.who.int/ and https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/. Each fact is a link that you can click on to take you to more information from these three websites.

Myth # 1 – Exposing yourself to higher temperatures prevents the COVID-19 disease.

FACT: Exposing yourself to higher temperatures DOES NOT prevent the disease.

Myth # 2 – The coronavirus only affects older people.

FACT: Everyone is susceptible, both the old and the young. Those who are older and/or have pre-existing conditions are at higher risk of severe complications or death. Young people with pre-existing conditions have died from this disease.

Myth #3 – There are treatments for the COVID-19 disease.

FACT: As of now there is not a treatment or medicine that can prevent coronavirus.

Myth #4 – There are antibiotics that can treat and prevent Coronavirus.

FACT: Antibiotics are used for treating bacteria, not viruses.

Myth # 5 – The coronavirus is only spread through the air.

FACT: According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days. The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper. It is also detectable in the air for three hours.

 What’s getting a lot of press and is presented out of context is that the virus can last on plastic for 72 hours—which sounds really scary. But what’s more important is the amount of the virus that remains. It’s less than 0.1% of the starting virus material. Infection is theoretically possible but unlikely at the levels remaining after a few days. People need to know this.

Myth # 6 – The coronavirus was man made.

FACT: Viruses can change over time. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. This is likely how the new coronavirus came to be.

Myth # 7 – Any face mask will protect you from COVID-19.

FACT: Certain models of professional, tight-fitting respirators (such as the N95) can protect health care workers as they care for infected patients. For the general public without respiratory illness, wearing lightweight disposable surgical masks is not recommended. Because they don’t fit tightly, they may allow tiny infected droplets to get into the nose, mouth or eyes. Also, people with the virus on their hands who touch their face under a mask might become infected. People with a respiratory illness can wear these masks to lessen their chance of infecting others. Bear in mind that stocking up on masks makes fewer available for sick patients and health care workers who need them.

Myth # 8 – Ordering or buying products shipped from overseas will make a person sick.

FACT: Researchers are studying the new coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. As of this writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19 from a commercial package is low since it has likely traveled over several days and been exposed to different temperatures and conditions during transit.

Myth # 9 – You can protect yourself from COVID-19 by swallowing or gargling with bleach, taking acetic acid or steroids, or using essential oils, salt water, ethanol or other substances.

FACT: None of these recommendations protects you from getting COVID-19, and some of these practices may be dangerous. The best ways to protect yourself from this coronavirus (and other viruses) include:Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and hot water.Avoiding close contact with people who are sick, sneezing or coughing.In addition, you can avoid spreading your own germs by coughing into the crook of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.

Myth # 10 – I don’t need to practice Social Distancing or Stay at Home.

FACT: Everyone should be practicing safe measures to prevent the spread of the disease. According to the CDC, here is a list of the most at risk. Please prevent the spread to yourself and those around you, especially the high risk loved ones in your life.

My Experiments with Fasting

From a young age I have been consistently fasting. There is no boasting in that. It is simply the way I was raised by my angel mother who fasted frequently herself. I believe in and was raised in a faith that encourages its members to fast once a month with a purpose. That monthly fast has always been understood as abstaining from food and drink for 24 hours. We are encouraged to donate what we would have spent on our meals to a fast offering fund which is used to help the less fortunate or those in need.

Our Prophet asked us to fast this past Sunday for those suffering with the effects of COVID-19. It was a wonderful feeling to fast and let go of worldly desires for food, but also to cleanse my mind and my focus.

The term and concept of fasting has become trendy as of late, especially intermittent fasting. From what I can tell most of the benefits being touted are for health and aesthetics, not necessarily always increased spirituality or to seek divine guidance. There are definitely many healthy benefits to fasting that also help increase longevity.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed fasting and the spiritual as well as the mental benefits that come with it. For me, I have particularly enjoyed praying and reading scriptures while fasting. Recently I’ve been reading about the Desert Fathers in Egypt who fasted for extraordinary periods of time. Something about their ascetic desert rituals really calls to me. These were men that devoted their lives to monastic service to God. What discipline! What focus! And what devotion! These were men of truth and character.

So that being said, I’m looking forward to using my Coronavirus isolation time to increase the frequency of my fasts. What comes with that is also an increase in prayer, meditation, and scripture study. There is something peaceful and cleansing about fasting. It brings me closer to God, and gives me greater compassion towards my fellow brothers and sisters.

In my recent thoughts about improving my fasts I’ve felt that I should take detailed notes about how I feel, inspiration I receive, and the purpose of my fasts. I’m looking forward to using this time away from the world to draw closer to God and to serve his children. One additional thing I plan on doing this evening, after I start my fast, is writing handwritten letters to my family, friends, and neighbors, to let them know how much I love them, and how much they mean to me. My hope is that we can all find some time to draw closer to God, and each other, through this time of trial. May we each do so in our own way, and in our own truth.