An Exploratory Risk Perception Study of Attitudes Toward Homeland Security Systems


*Address correspondence to Thomas F. Sanquist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 1100 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109; tel: 206-528-3240; fax: 206-528-3552;


Understanding the issues surrounding public acceptance of homeland security systems is important for balancing security needs and potential civil liberties infringements. A psychometric survey was used in an exploratory study of attitudes regarding homeland security systems. Psychometric rating data were obtained from 182 respondents on psychological attributes associated with 12 distinct types of homeland security systems. An inverse relationship was observed for the overall rating attributes of acceptability and risk of civil liberties infringement. Principal components analysis (PCA) yielded a two-factor solution with the rating scale loading pattern suggesting factors of perceived effectiveness and perceived intrusiveness. These factors also showed an inverse relationship. The 12 different homeland security systems showed significantly different scores on the rating scales and PCA factors. Of the 12 systems studied, airport screening, canine detectors, and radiation monitoring at borders were found to be the most acceptable, while email monitoring, data mining, and global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking were found to be least acceptable. Students rated several systems as more effective than professionals, but the overall pattern of results for both types of subjects was similar. The data suggest that risk perception research and the psychometric paradigm are useful approaches for quantifying attitudes regarding homeland security systems and policies and can be used to anticipate potentially significant public acceptance issues.