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Op-Ed: Government Going Beyond its Authority with Ebola Quarantine (NY Daily News)

By Donna Lieberman

Ebola is a public health issue, and our policies should be driven by the best public health practices — not politics.

Happily, that is what Mayor de Blasio and other New York City officials have been doing. They responded based on facts, not fear.

However, quarantines, like all involuntary detentions, raise significant civil liberties concerns. They’re justified in some circumstances, but they must be limited to when they are needed to address genuine public health concerns. This is a serious intrusion on individual liberty that should be as narrow as possible.

To quarantine an individual who medical experts say is not contagious, and does not put other people’s health at risk, is beyond the legitimate scope of the government’s authority.

The New York-New Jersey quarantine is not limited to people who are infectious and should be modified so it addresses the important public health concern that we all share in preventing infection, but does not needlessly or excessively subject individuals to severe restrictions on their liberty.

This protects both the individual and the greater good as the collateral consequences of excessive and overly broad use of quarantines may undermine the health interests they are supposed to serve — demonizing heroic health workers and discouraging them from participating in the worldwide and local efforts to stop Ebola.

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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