- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Infectious disease experts and the American Civil
Liberties Union raised concerns on Friday about an agreement that would
allow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and customs agents
to detain anyone who looked sick with bird flu.
- The memorandum of understanding, a copy
of which was provided to Reuters, also provides for Customs and Border
Protection agents to give personal details of airline passengers to the
- It was signed in October by Health and
Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff. HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson denied it was secret
- "We have had this agreement in place
and it's to help CDC when there is a report of communicable diseases on
an airplane," Pearson said.
- "It helps them quickly and efficiently
to be able to locate passengers and to inform them that they may have been
exposed to some kind of communicable disease, to reassure them and tell
them how to get right channels to treatment."
- The memorandum mentions H5N1 avian influenza,
which experts fear could cause a worldwide pandemic at any time, and also
makes provision for other diseases.
- There have been no outbreaks of disease
that would be covered by the agreement since it was signed.
- "CDC is authorized to isolate and/or
quarantine arriving persons reasonably believed to be infected with or
exposed to specified quarantinable diseases and to detain carriers and
cargo infected with a communicable disease," it reads.
- It also provides for Customs or Border
Patrol agents to forcibly detain, if necessary, anyone coming in who appears
to be sick while the CDC is contacted.
- The CDC says this is necessary in case
of a pandemic. Viruses such as flu can easily be carried by airline passengers.
But Dr. Donald Henderson, an expert on influenza, smallpox and other infectious
diseases who has advised the administration of President George W. Bush
on such issues, calls it "silly."
- ASTONISHED BY THE PROPOSAL
- "I was absolutely astonished when
I saw that proposed federal regulation," Henderson said in an interview.
- "It's so silly," added Henderson,
who now works at the Baltimore-based Center for Biosecurity at the University
of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
- Henderson noted that people can be infectious
with influenza and other diseases long before they begin to feel sick or
show any symptoms.
- "You are spending huge amounts of
money and have we got any evidence that this is going to do anything? Is
it worth all the energy we are going to be putting into it?" he said.
- The ACLU believes that protecting the
public is not the motivation.
- "The tracking of data on airline
passengers, which can amount to building lifetime dossiers on Americans,
has been a hotly debated issue for many years -- and now we find out that
two government agencies may have agreed, behind the public's back, to share
data," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and
- ACLU legislative counsel Tim Sparapani
said: "Once again, we are seeing that DHS cannot be trusted to exhibit
restraint in the handling of personal information.
- "They collect information, say they'll
use it for one purpose, and then they turn around and use it for another."
- The Center for Biosecurity's Penny Hitchcock,
a former National Institutes of Health infectious disease specialist, said
the CDC risks losing the public's trust.
- "The information that will be collected
by CDC/HHS is part of this quarantine effort -- sharing information collected
for disease prevention could be harmful," she said.
- "The harm being that it will create
suspicion and encourage people to regard the public health service as 'disease
cops.' Why would people want to cooperate under those circumstances?"
- © Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
- -- http://www.fastmail.fm - Access your
email from home and the web