Balancing Security, Risk: What The Boston Marathon Bombings Teach Us

How much risk are we willing to run? How much security do we want to have?

National Guardsmen block off major roads in Boston a day after the explosions. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

National Guardsmen block off a major road in Boston the day after the explosions. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Soft targets” barely begins to capture how utterly vulnerable people were when the bombs went off Monday in Boston. Moms and dads out with the kids on a pretty day. Happy students on a lark. Marathoners in their short shorts, exhausted at the end of 26 miles.

And then, the blasts. And carnage.

Now comes the inevitable question: Do we have to button all this down? Harden the security of joyously open and free public days? Crank surveillance to the max? Or is that all wrong?

Up next On Point: the free society and the surveillance society in the wake of the Boston bombings.

– Tom Ashbrook


Neil Richards, professor of law at Washington University Law and author of the paper “The Dangers Of Surveillance” published in the Harvard Law Review (@neilmrichards)

Carrie Cordero, director of national security studies and adjunct professor of law and Georgetown University Law Center

Ellis Henican, columnist at Newsday and political analyst on the Fox News Channel (@henican)

From Tom’s Reading List

Politico: Boston Bombings Test Post-9/11 Confidence — “The Boston Marathon bombing left Americans feeling more vulnerable to terrorism than they’ve felt since the Sept. 11 attacks. And it’s left politicians preparing for Americans to ask again what government can and should do to prevent acts of terrorism.”

Salon: The Boston Bombing Privacy Lesson — “You’d better hope you didn’t recently Google how to make a homemade bomb or what the exact route of the Boston Marathon is, or save an oddly titled file in Dropbox or even just like the wrong video on Facebook, because someone, even now, is probably poring over that information. Events like the Boston Marathon bombings are what the surveillance state lives for.”

Slate: How American Responds To Disaster — “When sudden massive violence ruptures our normal sense of safety–especially at a festive moment like Monday’s Boston Marathon–the world feels grimmer and grayer for a while. There’s the initial burst of fear and alarm, and then the residual pinch of tightened security, followed by the questions about which trade-offs of free movement and convenience are worth making.”

National Journal: Who’s Playing Politics With The Boston Bombing? — “Stop. Just stop. For the love of all that is still sane and civil about American politics, please don’t make the Boston Marathon bombing a talking point. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans are so far heeding President Obama’s call for a period of bipartisanship. ‘We are Americans united in concern for our fellow citizens,’ he said Monday evening. But there are outliers. The question is whether others will follow, and how soon.”

Tweets From During The Show

Earlier Coverage

WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, offers complete local coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

April 16, 2013: Aftermath and investigation the day after the bombings

April 15, 2013: Rolling coverage the day of the bombings

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