both resulted in significant restrictions on civil liberties, justified as needed to
protect the nation, including wide-ranging calls for a surge in surveillance to pro-
tect against would-be terrorists and pathogens, respectively.
But there was and is a key difference. After the 2001 attacks, the U.S. govern-
ment ramped up its tracking tools in order to identify and stop would-be terrorists,
much of which was done clandestinely. Even when the programs were disclosed
and, in some cases, transformed into congressionally-approved systems of sur-
veillance, key operational details, including the identities of those being tracked,
remained and remain secret.
The entire system depends, in large part, on non-
disclosure in order to be effective. It would, after all, largely defeat the purpose if
suspects knew how and when they were being tracked.
Health surveillance in response to a pandemic, however, has a very different
goal. The primary purpose is to educate and inform—to let people know where
there are large numbers of people congregating so that they can take steps to
avoid what might become the next disease hot spot; to tell individuals that they
have been in close contact with someone deemed contagious; to make visible and
transparent the need to test and self-quarantine; to let those subject to quarantine
orders know that their movements are being monitored in order to induce compli-
ance. The more transparent and open—or, depending on one’s perspective, the
more panopticon-like—the more effective.
This has led to a remarkable amount of clarity, as well as an open and robust
debate, about the kinds of surveillance employed or considered in support of bet-
ter health outcomes; how best to design the surveillance systems that are being
employed; whether, when, and in what cases use of surveillance systems should
number of COVID
-19 deaths exceeded that of deaths from the 9/11 attacks). Since then, numbers of
-19 deaths have continued to climb. JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY, COVID-19 UNITED STATES
CASES BY COUNTY, https://perma.cc/TLL3-CFHM.
3. Compare James Risen & Eric Lichtblau, Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers without Courts, N.Y.
TIMES (Dec. 16, 2005), https://perma.cc/KLT6-CH3F (revealing the existence of the Terrorist
Surveillance Program authorized by President George W. Bush that, without FISA oversight, allowed
NSA interception of the content of international communications to or from the United States when a
communicant was suspected of being linked to al Qaeda or a related terrorist organization), with FISA
Amendments Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-261, 122 Stat. 2436 (amending the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act of 1978 to, in essence, authorize the warrantless collection of foreigners’
communications, subject to programmatic approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court).
Another example is that of the telephone metadata, revealed by the Snowden leaks, transformed under
the USA Freedom Act. Pub. L. No. 114-23, 129 Stat. 268 (2015) (codified at 50 U.S.C. §1861
however, of who was targeted under that program were classified. See generally David S. Kris, Trends
and Predictions in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance: The FAA and Beyond, 8 J. NAT’L SECURITY L. &
POL’Y 377 (2016) (providing a comprehensive charting of past and future sea changes in foreign
4. There are of course some exceptions to this. Secrecy can help support a goal of compliance with
mandatory quarantines, for example, in the wake of concerns about people bypassing or manipulating an
applicable surveillance scheme. And there remains a use for Intelligence community tracking of things
like extraterritorial disease spread—as was reportedly done by the Intelligence community in 2019, as it
tracked the disease spread in China, thereby providing an early warning system. See Josh Margolin &
James Gordon Meek, Intelligence Report Warned of Coronavirus Crisis as Early as November: Sources,
ABC NEWS (Apr. 8, 2020, 9:55 PM), https://perma.cc/4M5T-2LHD. In general, however, health
surveillance works via public engagement and public disclosure.
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