The death of Osama Bin Laden has once again focused local news coverage and conversations on global terrorist events. Most of us can remember exactly where we were when we heard about the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 and how we felt at that time. And much has happened in the 10 years since then, including the attacks in Bali and Mumbai, reminding us that Australia is not immune or removed from such world events.
So how has our sense of security changed over the last decade?
Well, in the lead up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we decided to find out. As part of the latest Unisys Security Index™ we asked Australians if they were more or less concerned about key security issues than they were in 2001. The survey questions were fielded in February, so it was before the death of Osama Bin Laden. I must also stress that the responses reflect the views here in Australia, and quite different responses might be given in other countries if the question was asked there.
The research found that in the 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more Australians say they have become more concerned about the threat of identity theft, financial fraud, and environmental disasters than those who say they have become more concerned about the threat of terrorist attacks such as airline hijackings or suicide bombs.
Three out of four Australians (76 percent) responded that they are more concerned today about credit card data being stolen, two in three (66 percent) are more concerned today about the risk of an environmental disaster, and 59 percent are more concerned about companies losing their personal or financial details.
Conversely, only 51 percent of Australians said they are more concerned today than 10 years ago about the threat of a suicide bomb in Australia and 42 percent expressed increased concern about airline hijackings.
These results reflect that today’s security environment has evolved significantly since the 2001 terrorist attacks, which dominated the media and social psyche at the time. While there is still a general awareness of traditional national security issues, more contemporary issues such as identity theft and environmental concerns today have a greater immediacy for a larger number of Australians.
Many Australians have personally experienced, or know of someone else who has been a victim of, some form of identity theft, whether it be credit card data theft or someone else obtaining and using your personal details, so we are well aware of the risk. Similarly, public awareness campaigns such as last week’s Privacy Awareness Week initiative, which was run across Asia Pacific, as well as reminders from banks and credit card providers all help to keep this issue top of mind. And this is a good thing — being aware of the issue prompts you take action to prevent yourself becoming a victim. To borrow a phrase, it means you can be alert but not alarmed.
The increased concern regarding the risk of environmental disaster is clearly a response to heightened awareness of the natural disasters that are typical in the Australian environment. In the last year we have dealt with floods, bushfires, droughts, and even an earthquake, and witnessed our regional neighbors cope with earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides.
That said, don’t forget that nearly half of the Australians polled said that they are more concerned about the risk of a suicide bomb in Australia than they were 10 years ago.
So it would appear that we have a heightened awareness about the many security issues we face today. Yet as a nation we are not panicked. In fact Australia recorded the second lowest level of overall security concern among the 12 countries where the research is conducted globally, with only the Netherlands more relaxed than us.
I even heard a caller on a talk-back radio show say that her 18-year-old son queried what all the fuss was over Osama Bin Ladin’s death. Shocking? Not when you consider he would have only be eight years old when 9/11 so dominated our psyche and the media. He’s far more likely to be aware of — or been impacted by — the Sony PlayStation identity breach and events like the Queensland floods or Christchurch earthquake.
At this point in time, Australians believe immediate security risks to the individual outweigh concern about terrorism. It will be interesting to see how recent events will be reflected in the next Unisys Security Index.