Skip to main content

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 (
Hide All
Ackerman Bruce. 2004. “The Emergency Constitution.” Yale Law Journal 113: 1029–91.
Ackerman Bruce. 2006. Before the Next Attack: Preserving Civil Liberties in the Age of Terrorism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Alexander Yonah. 2006. Counterterrorism Strategies: Successes and Failures of Six Nations. Washington, DC: Potomac Books.
Becker Garry. 1968. “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach.” Journal of Political Economy 76: 169217.
Bianco William, Ordeshook Peter, and Tsebelis George. 1990. “Crime and Punishment: Are One-shot, Two Person Games Enough?American Political Science Review 84: 569–86.
Breton Albert, and Wintrobe Ronald. 1982. The Logic of Bureaucratic Control. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bueno de Mesquita Ethan. 2005. “The Quality of Terror.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (3): 515–30.
Bueno de Mesquita Ethan. 2007. “Politics and the Suboptimal Provision of Counterterror.” International Organization 61 (1): 936.
Bueno de Mesquita Ethan, and Dickson Eric. 2007. “The Propaganda of the Deed: Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Mobilization.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (2): 364–81.
Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. 2005. “Report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Cox Gary. 1994. “A Note on Crime and Punishment.” Public Choice 78: 115–24.
Dershowitz Alan. 2002. Why Terrorism Works. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Donohue Laura. 2008. The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Downs Anthony. 1967. Inside Bureaucracy, A Rand Corporation Research Study. Boston: Little, Brown.
Ferejohn John, and Pasquino Pasquale. 2004. “The Law of the Exception: A Typology of Emergency Powers.” International Journal of Constitutional Law 2 (2): 210–39.
Garicano Luis, and Posner Richard. 2005. “Intelligence Failure: An Organizational Economic Perspective.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 (4): 151–70.
Gould Eric, and Stecklov Guy. 2009. “Terror and the Costs of Crime.” Journal of Public Economics 93: 1175–88.
Gross Oren, and Aoláin FionnualaN.. 2006. Law in Times of Crisis: Emergency Powers in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gunaratna Rohan. 2004. “The Post-Madrid Face of Al Qaeda.” Washington Quarterly 27: 91100
Hardin Russell. 2004. “Civil Liberties in the Era of Mass Terrorism.” Journal of Ethics 8 (1): 7795.
Hewitt Steve. 2008. The British War on Terror. London: Continuum.
Heymann Philip B. 2003. Terrorism, Freedom, and Security. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hirshleifer Jack, and Rasmussen Eric. 1992. “Are Equilibrium Strategies Unaffected by Incentives?Journal of Theoretical Politics 4: 353–67.
Holmes Stephen. 1995. Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Holmes Stephen. 2007. The Matadors Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holmstrom Bengt, and Milgrom Paul. 1991. “Multitask Principal–agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 7 (Special Issue): 2452.
Home Department. 2004. “Counter-terrorism Powers: Reconciling Security and Liberty in an Open Society: A Discussion Paper.” (accessed January 6, 2010).
Jacobson Michael. 2006. “The West at War: U.S. and European Counterterrorism Efforts, Post–September 11.” Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Justice Department. 2004. “Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft Regarding the Indictment of HAMAS” (accessed January 6, 2011).
Kydd Andrew, and Walter Barbara. 2006. “The Strategies of Terrorism.” International Security 31 (1): 4979.
Manin Bernard. 2008. “The Emergency Paradigm and the New Terrorism.” In Les Usages de la Sparation des Pouvoirs—The Uses of the Separation of Powers, eds. Baume Sandrine and Fontana Biancamaria. Paris: Michel Houdiard, 135–71.
Milgrom Paul, and Roberts John. 1990. “Bargaining Costs, Influence Costs and the Organization of Economic Activity.” In Perspectives on Positive Political Economy, eds. Alt James E. and Shepsle Kenneth A.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 5789.
Milgrom Paul, and Roberts John. 1988. “An Economic Approach to Influence Activities and Organizational Responses.” American Journal of Sociology 94 (2): 154–79.
Milgrom Paul, and Roberts John. 1992. Economics, Organization and Management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Moe Terry. 1984. “The New Economics of Organization.” American Journal of Political Science 283 (4): 739–77.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. 2004. “The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.” Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Niskanen William. 1971. Bureaucracy and Representative Government. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.
Pfeffer Jeffery 1993. Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Posner Eric A., and Vermeule Adrian. 2007. Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts. New York: Oxford University Press.
Posner Richard. 2005. Preventing Surprise Attacks. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Posner Richard. 2006a. Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Posner Richard. 2006b. Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Posner Richard A. 2006c. “The Reorganized U.S. Intelligence System after One Year.” AEI Outlook Series. (accessed January 6, 2011).
Powell Robert. 2007a. “Defending against Terrorist Attacks with Limited Resources.” American Political Science Review 101 (3): 527–41.
Powell Robert. 2007b. “Allocating Defensive Resources with Private Information about Vulnerability.” American Political Science Review 100 (4): 799809.
Przeworski Adam. 2003. States and Markets: A Primer in Political Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ramraj Victor, Hor Michael and Roach Kent, eds. 2005. Global Anti-terrorism Law and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Regan Priscilla M. 1995. Legislating Privacy: Technology, Social Values, and Public Policy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Rehnquist William H. 1998. All the Laws But One: Civil Liberties in Wartime. New York: Knopf.
Rosendorff Peter, and Sandler Todd. 2004. “Too Much of a Good Thing? The Proactive Response Dilemma.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 (5): 657–71.
Rourke Francis. 1984. Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy. Boston: Little, Brown.
Schmid Alex P. 1993. “Western Responses to Terrorism.” In Terrorism and Political Violence, eds. Schmid Alex P. and Crelinsten Ronald D.. London: Frank Cass, 1525.
Siqueira Keith, and Sandler Todd. 2006. “Terrorists vs the Security Agency: Strategic Interaction, Support, and Sponsorship.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50 (6): 878–98.
Solove Daniel. 2008. Understanding Privacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Treverton Gregory. 2008. Reorganizing U.S. Domestic Intelligence: Assessing the Options. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
Tsebelis George. 1989. “The Abuse of Probability in Political Analysis: The Robinson Crusoe Fallacy.” American Political Science Review 83: 7791.
Tsebelis George. 1990. “Penalty Has No Impact on Crime: A Game Theoretic Analysis.” Rationality and Society 2: 255–86.
Waldron Jeremy. 2003. “Security and Liberty: The Image of Balance.” Journal of Political Philosophy 11 (2): 191.
Walker Clive. 1992. The Prevention of Terrorism in British Law. 2nd ed. New York: Manchester University Press.
White Jonathan R. 2003. Terrorism: 2002 Update. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Wilson James Q. 1989. Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It. New York: Basic Books.
Zegart Amy. 2007. Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 68
Total number of PDF views: 375 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1136 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 17th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.