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Is There a Trade-off between Security and Liberty? Executive Bias, Privacy Protections, and Terrorism Prevention


I develop a game-theoretic model of an interaction between an antiterrorist agency and a terrorist organization to analyze how the probability of a terrorist attack varies when the level of privacy protections changes. I derive two implications. First, privacy and security from terrorism need not be in conflict: when accounting for strategic interactions, reducing privacy protections does not necessarily increase security from terrorism. Second, and more important, the antiterrorist agency will always want less privacy. The very agency whose expertise affords it disproportionate influence on policy making will prefer a reduction in privacy protections even when that reduction harms security from terrorism. The analysis has implications for understanding the relationship between government powers and civil liberties in the context of terrorism prevention and times of emergencies more generally.

Corresponding author
Tiberiu Dragu is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 605 E. Springfield Avenue, Champaign, IL 61820 (
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Albert Breton , and Ronald Wintrobe . 1982. The Logic of Bureaucratic Control. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laura Donohue . 2008. The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oren Gross , and FionnualaN. Aoláin . 2006. Law in Times of Crisis: Emergency Powers in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stephen Holmes . 2007. The Matadors Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paul Milgrom , and John Roberts . 1990. “Bargaining Costs, Influence Costs and the Organization of Economic Activity.” In Perspectives on Positive Political Economy, eds. James E. Alt and Kenneth A. Shepsle . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 5789.

Victor Ramraj , Michael Hor and Kent Roach , eds. 2005. Global Anti-terrorism Law and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Amy Zegart . 2007. Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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