Millennials Prefer Security to Privacy

Over the centuries, differences in generational attitudes have caused the nation’s consensus on how to balance the tension between security and privacy to shift. Group and civic-oriented generations, such as the GI generation that fought in World War II, emphasized safety and security. Individualistic generations, such as today’s Baby Boomers and Generation X, tilted the balance back toward protecting privacy from the intrusions of big government or big business.

Today another civic generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, is emerging into young adulthood and, like other cohorts of their type, are likely to once again push America toward a greater focus on security. In an era of ubiquitous smart phones, soon to be available as hands-free wearable glasses and smart watches, most Millennials accept the inevitable loss of privacy that comes with the increasing presence of social media. As a result, technologist Pete Markiewicz points out that tracking an individual’s physical and virtual movements can now be accomplished with sufficient mining of cell phone and web data to produce a “lifelog” that Google or Facebook might use to provide Millennials with a measure of their “personal connectedness” – or police might use to find a terrorist in our midst.

Millennials: Willing  To Trade Privacy for Security

Millennials are more willing to give up privacy for security. Will the generation's
desire for safety lead to new levels of government and corporate surveillance?

Video from Mike and Morley

Having posted their entire life on Facebook, Millennials are less concerned than older generations with this kind of documentation of an individual’s behavior and more interested in how to use technology to increase their personal safety.

Like other generations, a solid majority of Millennials (58 percent) support national ID cards for all Americans. Two-thirds of them believe that surveillance cameras to combat terrorism are a good idea. And, half of Millennials, compared with 40 percent from other generations, favor government monitoring of credit card sales to help combat terrorists.

Even so, most Millennials are confident that this increased surveillance can be accomplished in accord with America’s constitutional traditions. According to Pew, only 25 percent of the Millennial generation (as compared with nearly half of older generations) believe that it will be necessary for Americans to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. This does not mean that Millennials are naïve or soft on terror. They are quite willing to utilize the full force of government and to take complete advantage of current technology to deal with the threat, but they want it to be done fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner; less than half of Millennials favor extra airport screening of people of Middle Eastern descent, in contrast to nearly 60 percent of older Americans.

Fifteen years ago, in his book, “The Transparent Society,” futurist David Brin predicted constant surveillance would become part of daily life. As Mr. Brin wrote, the central question that must be answered to resolve the privacy/security paradox is “who controls the cameras or the networks and who can access the data.”

His solution to preserving civil liberties in such a world – increasing transparency at the same rate as the growth of personal data – offers a solution that Millennials, with their strong desire to share everything, would embrace. If the beliefs and behaviors of the Millennial generation become the country’s guideposts for how to live in this new world, America should do a better job in the near future than it has done in the past of adhering to its democratic principles as it searches for a greater sense of security.