Magazine article The Christian Century

Security at What Cost?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Security at What Cost?

Article excerpt

Each year in the United States, 30,000 people die in traffic accidents. While lower speed limits could save some of them, our culture values traveling quickly at least as much as traveling safely. Diet-related diseases kill many thousands; regulating junk food could save lives and reduce health-care spending. But we Americans prize our right to choose what we eat, so the costs and benefits must be weighed.

As for terrorism, it's a frightening killer--but a vanishingly unlikely one. Lightning strikes and fireworks accidents are far more prolific. Yet in our political climate, safety from terrorism enjoys a peculiar status: it's an absolute priority, subject to little scrutiny or cost-benefit analysis. While policies that could save far more lives are optional, fighting terrorism is simply doing what must be done.

Following recent revelations that the National Security Agency has been collecting Americans' phone and Internet records (see "Being watched," p. 10), 63 percent of Americans expressed concern that the feds will "misuse the information ... to snoop into people's private lives." Seventy-six percent expect this surveillance is "bigger and more widespread than we now know." Yet only 44 percent disapprove of it. When it comes to security, Americans may think a strategy's rotten and will only get worse but stop short of actually objecting to it.

when the Justice Department, citing a terror threat, seized Associated Press phone records in May, only 44 percent of Americans objected. Just 16 percent even followed the story closely. It was a startling affront to freedom of the press, a bedrock of democratic society--but Americans are a lot more concerned about national security. …

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