In the wake of the most recent terrorist attack by Islamic extremists, I was put in mind of an old Greek myth. Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters noted by Homer in the Odyssey. Scylla was a six-headed monster and Charybdis was a huge whirlpool. Odysseus was forced to navigate his ship near one or the other. He chose Scylla, hoping to lose only some of his crew but not the whole ship. In some ways the current international dilemma is similar to this age-old bind. We too must choose between evils, in this case between the loss of life and the loss of liberty. The delicate balance between security and freedom is a well-worn issue in history and political science. What is new, however, is the way all elements of the equation have spiraled in intensity over the last twenty years. If I may mix metaphors a bit, the horns of the dilemma have become exquisitely sharp. The external threat of suicide bombings has become its own multi-headed monster. Small terrorist cells disbursed widely across the world have redefined the meaning of guerrilla warfare. They may work in coordination, but also on their own. Their bombs can be constructed for pennies. The willingness to commit suicide makes their approach to a target almost unstoppable. But it is the internal threat, embodied in the response of Western governments to terrorism, which I want to focus on in this brief essay. Unfortunately this internal threat has also swelled. For some time we’ve known that the most effective prevention of terrorist acts flows not from military action, but rather from police action, broadly conceived. The monitoring of computer and cell phone traffic; camera surveillance; explosives detection; DNA identification; encryption of vulnerable information; rapid sharing of data among agencies and governments; steady pressure on terrorist financial resources; detailed background searches; visible officer presence; weapon searches at strategic sites; and so on ad infinitum. Police tactics may be our strongest defense, but these tactics themselves are more dangerous to us than they have ever been. And the reason for this involves a confluence of primarily two factors. First of course is the strikingly accelerated curve of digital technology, and the corresponding, exponential increase of surveillance capacity. As the dramatic revelations of whistle blowers has highlighted, governments have not allowed this capacity to go unused. The true shock of their digital voyeurism is not so much the illegality. There is no surprise in governments acting illegally if they think they can get away with it. Rather, the shock is in the sheer scope of the technical capacity. This is not your grandfather’s surveillance. Your grandfather never had to worry about being monitored at home by the built-in camera on his lap top. Second, the power of this surveillance has been enormously potentiated by the enthusiastic, no the jubilant, participation of citizens themselves in the data gathering. This is new. Digital technology offers irresistible temptations. Instant conversation: I’ll just text her. Immediate information: I’ll just look it up. Convenient consumption: I click it, they ship it. And of course the pull of recognition: social media just feels so good. But with every key stroke, we enter personal information that can be, and is, stored and cross-referenced. What we believe. What we buy. What we read. What we have questions about. What’s happening in our lives. Sometimes this information will be, how shall I say, of interest. Consider the current essay. Although the ruminations of this social critic are unlikely to sustain the attention of the NSA, word detection algorithms are nonetheless equal opportunity programs. Consider key terms that might ring a little bell. Start with my title: “. . . Suicide Bombers”. There it is, the little bell. So what? Well, the important point is that the social forces fueling both Scylla and Charybdis are unlikely to subside in the foreseeable future. Terror will continue, and policing will expand. And expand. We may be forced to make a collective decision, at some point, about where we are willing to draw the line. Should we draw it just short of, say, national identification cards? Mandatory provision of DNA samples from all citizens? Extensive drone surveillance of residential neighborhoods? Despite their lurid Orwellian tone, these questions are not the most important ones. The most important, and dispiriting, question is: when the time comes will we even have the power to draw a line?