NSA Topic Paper Sneak Peek!

Yesterday, the November Topic for Public Forum was released – it’s, Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harmsWe’re hard at work on our full topic primer for each side, but we hate to keep you waiting. We cut a pretty good card we’re releasing as a sneak peek! Find it below:

This is a piece of affirmative evidence by Elizabeth Goitein, Co-Director of Liberty and National Security at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York. She is making a tie-breaker argument that we should hold the line on NSA domestic surveillance because it represents a significant leap forward in the alarming erosion of civil liberties post-9/11.

Goitein, 2013 [“The danger of American apathy on NSA surveillance,” Elizabeth, codirector of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, July 13, Christian Science Monitor.]

Serious as they are, these concerns fail to explain fully why Americans should care. After all, this remains a remarkably free country. There are exceptions. Muslim Americans, who are singled out for scrutiny by some law enforcement agencies, have reported harassment by customs officials as well as a chilling of political and religious activity. Outside of these communities, though, few Americans feel any tangible effects from increased surveillance. The vast majority of law-abiding citizens go about their lives without fear of government persecution. And that may be the problem. Free societies tend to take their freedom for granted. But our liberties do not derive from the innate trustworthiness of our elected representatives. They derive from laws and institutions put in place for the preservation of liberty. These laws and institutions, some version of which can be found in all democratic societies, are relatively recent innovations in human history. Before their advent, tyrannies and dictatorships were the norm. Even today, in countries without this framework, people are not free. Since 9/11, the laws and institutions created to ensure Americans’ freedom have been weakened – sometimes incrementally, sometimes significantly – at a rapid pace. This is particularly true for limitations on surveillance, a power that carries tremendous potential for abuse. National Security Letters, a form of administrative subpoena, are now available to collect any information “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, not just information about potential suspects. Customs agents no longer need reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to search citizens’ laptops at the border. Americans’ international communications are now subject to wiretapping without an individualized court order. The list goes on. In any given instance, the government can make the case that the change is small, or that it is justified by increased security. In some cases, the argument may be persuasive. It is the trend, however, that should concern us. Twelve years after 9/11, as the nation approaches the date for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the quiet erosion of Americans’ civil liberties continues. That doesn’t mean the US government should never expand surveillance authorities, or that Americans should resolve all trade-offs between liberty and security in favor of liberty. After all, the United States is a long way from a dictatorship. But given the post-9/11 trend of diminishing legal protections, Americans should not make these choices lightly. And each additional broadening of the government’s powers must be a matter of choice – not passive acquiescence to a secret expansion. When that choice is taken from the citizenry, it is no occasion to “calm down” and look the other way.

This is a good debate argument because it:

1. Gives the judge a framework for decision-making – a meta-argument: That you should heavily favor liberty over security because public apathy means we are unlikely to notice until it’s too late.

2. Makes a uniqueness argument – Surveillance is overreaching now – the momentum needs to go in the other direction.

3. Contains several other affirmative warrants you can extend (human nature, institutional checks, etc.)

Enjoy the preview – we’ll be out with the whole thing soon!

About Lauren Sabino

Lauren Sabino is the Director of Youth Programs at the National Center for Policy Analysis. She currently administrates Debate Central, the largest free online debate resource.
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