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The Economics of Privacy vs. Security

By Stephanie Berrong

Policy makers consider a number of factors when deciding what security policies to implement, including public acceptance of measures. But the public’s preferences concerning security procedures are often based on opinion polls or surveys, which permit only “yes” or “no” responses and do not quantify the extent to which people are willing to give up civil liberties or privacy to gain a security benefit.

A new RAND Europe report discusses a study that tried to get a more nuanced sense of the tradeoffs the public might be willing to accept through an Internet survey of 2,058 residents in the United Kingdom, selected to represent a cross-section of the country’s population.

Participants were asked about the levels of security they would accept in three scenarios: applying for a U.K. passport, traveling on the U.K. national rail network, and attending a major public event. The survey proposed a series of choices for each scenario.

In the passport application survey, participants were asked to choose between three options. Each option presented a different scenario using the following characteristics: total price for the passport, the processing time, the type of personal information required, the level of sharing of passport data, the additional uses of the passport, and the number of illegal immigrants and terrorists who may be identified. The respondent also had the opportunity to opt out of having a passport under all three options presented.

The researchers assessed answers using a mathematical model known as stated-preference discrete-choice to assign a monetary value to the amount people are willing to pay for security, or alternatively the amount they would require to accept a certain security policy or technology. For example, after analyzing the data, researchers determined that respondents would be willing to accept DNA collection for passports if there were a subsidy of £19 ($30) on the cost of the passport.

(To read the rest of "Parsing Public Support" from this month's issue of Security Management, click here.)


♦ Photo by rpongsaj/Flickr

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