Date of Original Version
The trade-off between security and liberty has been a leading frame for understanding public opinion about domestic surveillance policies. Most of the empirical work explicitly examining whether individuals meet the trade-off framework’s core attitudinal assumptions comes from European studies. This study uses a survey of US residents to assess the veracity of the assumptions embedded in the trade-off framework, namely whether domestic counterterrorism policies are simultaneously viewed as improving security and decreasing liberty. We find that the vast majority of US respondents do not meet the basic attitudinal assumptions of the trade-off frame. Next, we evaluate the source of these attitudes with a focus on whether attitudes toward surveillance policies merely relate to core political values or whether they also depend on the messages from political leaders. We find that both political values and opinion leadership shape these attitudes. Finally, because general attitudes towards surveillance and privacy often fail to have practical implications, we assess whether these attitudes matter for understanding the structure of policy support. Our results show that heightened terrorism threat positively associates with increased support for counterterrorism policies only when people believe these policies are effective security tools.
Krueger, Brian S., Samuel J. Best, and Kristin Johnson. 2020. Assessing Dimensions of the Security-Liberty Trade-off in the United States. Surveillance & Society 18(1): 104-120.
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