Pass the valium: U.S. anxiety levels climb faster than rest of the world

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Somali security forces attend the scene of a car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 20, 2017. Farah Abdi Warsameh AP

| Miami Herald | June 20, 2017

Anxiety levels of Americans over matters such as war, terrorism, hacking and identity theft have spiked in recent years, leaving the nation near average in a global barometer of perceptions of security, a survey released Tuesday said.

Concerns about war and terrorism topped the list of matters gnawing at Americans, according to the Unisys Security Index, but viruses and hacking, bank-card fraud and identity theft also stoke insecurity.

The Unisys index surveyed more than 13,000 people in 13 countries in April, and is considered one of the only recurring global snapshots of citizen perceptions.

“It appears that our cloak of security, the impression that we had that we are more secure than the rest of the world, is starting to fade,” said Bill Searcy, vice president for global justice, law enforcement and border security at Unisys, a global information technology company.

Levels of U.S. anxiety jumped sharply since the last such survey was conducted in 2014, and came in at the highest levels since the surveys began a decade ago.

The United States held eighth place among the 13 countries, chalking up the same score on perceptions of security as Colombia but trailing Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, the survey found. Those feeling even more insecure than Americans reside in Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines.

“It’s an understatement to say that anxiety level is high, and we live in very uncertain times,” said Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, a Unisys senior vice president. “We definitely have seen a huge spike over the last three years.”

The index calculates a score of zero to 300 based on concern about eight specific issues within the general fields of national, financial, internet and personal security. The U.S. score jumped from 123 in 2014 to 169 this year, an increase of 37 percent, the survey found.

“The rest of the world also climbed, but the U.S. climbed at a higher rate,” Searcy said.

Topping the list were national security issues, which include war and terrorism as well as natural disaster. Of Americans surveyed, 68 percent said they were extremely or very concerned about those areas.

Next came identity theft, which unnerves 61 percent. Bank-card fraud seriously unsettled 58 percent, and viruses or hacking deeply concern 56 percent.

“The findings themselves are not surprising unless you haven’t picked up a newspaper,” said Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University.

Concerns about internet insecurity are valid, he said, given the evolving nature of criminality in the cyber sphere and the way countries are digitally poking at foes.

“But shortly following that, you’ve got foreign terrorist organizations. You’ve got criminal enterprises that are as sophisticated from the tradecraft standpoint as nations were just six months ago,” said Cilluffo, a former special assistant on homeland security to President George W. Bush.

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