concern about protection of civil liberties as the government employed its expanded powers in investigating potential terrorist threats.4

Like other analysts,5 we find that acceptance of government surveillance measures has diminished over the years since 9/11, and that people are now both less convinced of the need to cede privacy and other civil liberties in the course of terrorism investigation and personally less willing to give up their freedoms. We show that critical views are visible in the closely related domains of attitudes toward individual surveillance measures and toward recently revealed secret surveillance programs. More generally, public pessimism about protection of the right to privacy has increased.

Westin identified five influences on people’s attitudes toward the balance between security and civil liberties: perceptions of terrorist threat; assessment of government effectiveness in dealing with terrorism; perceptions of how government terrorism prevention programs are affecting civil liberties; prior attitudes toward security and civil liberties; and broader political orientations, which may in turn be shaped by demographic and other social background factors.6 This review confirms the role of these influences on public attitudes toward privacy and security in the post-9/11 era.

This examination of research on attitudes toward government surveillance since 9/11 leads us to draw the following general conclusions:

  1. As time from a direct terrorist attack on U.S. soil increases, the public is growing less certain of the need to sacrifice civil liberties for terrorism prevention, less willing to make such sacrifices, and more concerned that government counterterrorism efforts will erode privacy.

  2. Tolerance for most individual surveillance measures declined in the five years after 9/11. The public’s attitudes toward recently revealed monitoring programs are mixed, with no clear consensus.

  3. There is no strong support for health information databases that could be used to identify bioterrorist attacks or other threats to public health.

4

The term is Westin’s. See A.F. Westin, “How the public sees the security-versus-liberty debate,” pp. 19-36 in Protecting What Matters: Technology, Security, and Liberty Since 9/11 (C. Northouse, ed.), Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2005.

5

See, for example, A.F. Westin, “How the public sees the security-versus-liberty debate,” pp. 19-36 in Protecting What Matters: Technology, Security, and Liberty Since 9/11 (C. Northouse, ed.), Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2005; S.J. Best, B.S. Krueger, and J. Ladewig, “Privacy in the Information Age,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(3):375-401, 2006.

6

A.F. Westin, “How the public sees the security-versus-liberty debate,” pp. 19-36 in Protecting What Matters: Technology, Security, and Liberty Since 9/11 (C. Northouse, ed.), Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2005.



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