The ACLU-MN released this statement in response to law enforcement associations calling on the Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner to release the addresses of people with COVID-19:
The ACLU of Minnesota believes that protecting public health is enormously important, and we want our nurses, doctors and first responders to stay safe. But providing law enforcement with confidential information about everyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 is not the answer. Any response to this crisis must be solidly informed by science, public health expertise and the protection of our civil liberties. Any response must intrude on our precious civil liberties no more than absolutely necessary.
The demand by law enforcement associations to provide them with the addresses of everyone who has tested positive is a serious overreach and a major violation of our constitutional right to privacy. It hearkens back to the days of the AIDS crisis, which led to the demonization of our most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable time.
This demand is not informed by science. We know that the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is a serious undercount, given the severe shortage of tests and also the early discouragement of testing for people considered at lower risk of serious complications.
Providing a list to law enforcement that contains a clear undercount of COVID-19 cases would create a false sense of security, likely leading to more cases of Coronavirus among our first responders. We instead encourage law enforcement to take a step that is much less intrusive on our precious rights: They should treat every incident they respond to as a potential COVID-19 case. We believe first responders should be issued the highest quality PPE currently available to them, and accordingly, we support efforts to speed up production of N-95 masks. Police and sheriffs also can reduce their risk of COVID-19 by deprioritizing enforcement of low-level offenses like vehicle equipment violations.
We encourage these law enforcement associations to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 and the risk to correctional officers and their communities by developing plans to keep people in jails and prisons safe, including releasing people where it’s possible, including people who are in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford bond and those near the end of their sentences. We encourage law enforcement to publicly release the number of staffers who have tested positive, especially those working in correctional facilities, much the same way the DOC is currently tracking inmate cases. Each time anyone enters or exits a correctional facility, the risk to the community – and first responders – goes up. Minimizing this risk makes sense from a public safety, public health and humanitarian perspective.