Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 99-120

First online:

Sacrificing Civil Liberties to Reduce Terrorism Risks

  • W. Kip ViscusiAffiliated withHarvard Law School
  • , Richard J. ZeckhauserAffiliated withKennedy School of Government, Harvard UniversityHarvard Business School


Our survey results demonstrate that targeted screening of airline passengers raises conflicting concerns of efficiency and equity. Support for profiling increases if there is a substantial reduction in avoided delays to other passengers. The time cost and benefit components of targeting affect support for targeted screening in an efficiency-oriented manner. Nonwhite respondents are more reluctant than whites to support targeting or to be targeted. Terrorism risk assessments are highly diffuse, reflecting considerable risk ambiguity. People fear highly severe worst case terrorism outcomes, but their best estimates of the risk are more closely related to their lower bound estimates than their upper bound estimates. Anomalies evident in other risk perception contexts, such as hindsight biases and embeddedness effects, are particularly evident for terrorism risk beliefs.

terrorism risk beliefs ambiguity