Effect of Terrorist Threat Perception on Public Attitudes Toward Privacy and Security

Jennifer Yun Hua Christian, Walden University


There exists an inherent tension between the American values of privacy and security. It is important to understand the factors that influence Americans' willingness to give up privacy in exchange for elevated security in the post-9/11 era. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between the American public values of privacy and security in the period since 9/11, and how the levels of personal and sociotropic terrorist threat have affected public willingness to sacrifice privacy in exchange for heightened security. This macrolevel understanding of the interplay between terrorist threat, privacy, and security in the years since 9/11 is not present in the existing scholarly literature. The theoretical framework behind this study was Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Research questions focused on how terrorist threat and trust in government affected Americans' privacy-security spectrum placement (PSSP). Data sources for this meta-analysis were collected though searches of existing scholarly literature and public polling datasets. The meta-analysis of 13 sources identified effect sizes for the relationships between personal terrorist threat and PSSP, sociotropic terrorist threat and PSSP, and trust in government and PSSP. Results indicated that as levels of personal terrorist threat increased, people's willingness to sacrifice privacy in exchange for heightened security also increased at a significant level. The same correlation was also true for sociotropic terrorist threat and trust in government. The social change implications of these results include a greater understanding of the public values of privacy and security, which is essential for enabling policymakers to author and implement privacy and security policies that accurately reflect Americans' value preferences.